Plants / Introduction of the Fuchsia / F. triphylla

Fuchsia triphylla

Although Fuchsia triphylla was known to European botanists through Plumier's work from the beginning of the eighteenth century, it does not appear to have been introduced into cultivation. Philip Miller, the Director of Chelsea Physic Garden, recorded in the Gardener's Dictionary that Dr William Houston found the plant at Cartagena, Colombia and sent him some seeds. On the assumption that it required high temperatures, this fuchsia was grown at Chelsea in the stovehouse year-round.

William Houston (c1704-1733) was a Scottish surgeon who collected plants in Jamaica, Cuba and the neighbouring mainland while serving with the South Sea Company in 1730 until shipwrecked near Vera Cruz. He subsequently returned to the area with a specific commission for three years on a salary of £200 a year to collect plants in the Spanish colonies of Central America. He was meant to then travel on to Georgia to oversee the laying out of a public garden and nursery in Savannah, but died in Jamaica in 1733.

Although Miller believed that his was the plant Plumier had described, it is likely to have been a different species, native to the area of Central America where Houston was collecting. In any case the fuchsia grown at Chelsea subsequently disappeared from cultivation.

F. triphylla was not finally introduced into cultivation until seeds were collected from Haiti for Thomas Hogg, who ran a commercial nursery in New York. A plant raised in England from some of these seeds at the Henderson nursery in Maida Vale was identified by Kew in 1884 and featured in the Botanical Magazine (plate 6795) in January 1885.