Xmera / Garden History / Plants: Introduction of the Fuchsia

F. triphylla

F. coccinea

F. magellanica

F. lyciodes

F. decussata

The Introduction of the Fuchsia to English Gardens

The fuchsia is generally described as having been discovered by Charles Plumier, a French Franciscan monk and botanist on a plant hunting expedition to the islands of the Caribbean in 1695. More accurately Plumier was the first botanist to publish a description and illustrations of a fuchsia in his Nova plantarum americanum genera (Paris, 1703). The genus was of course known to the indigenous peoples of the areas where it grew and presumably was noticed by earlier explorers, although having no immediate economic use was not exploited by them.

Plumier had studied botany in Italy and was known as a skilled draughtsman. He made his first voyage to the West Indies in 1689, as part of a botanical expedition to collect plants for the French king. Plumier identified the fuchsia on his third voyage to the area, when he visited Guadeloupe, Santo Domingo and Martinique.

He named the genus Fuchsia in honour of the influential sixteenth-century German botanist Leonhard Fuchs. The particular species he had found he named F. triphylla flore coccinea, indicating that it had three leaves and was deep red in colour. This name was subsequently shortened by Linnaeus to Fuchsia triphylla to fit with his binomial system. Plumier and Linnaeus were not to know that F. triphylla was hardly unique in having three leaves and being dark red. The similarities between some fuchsia species was subsequently to cause considerable confusion among nineteenth-century botanists.

Although Philip Miller, director of the Chelsea Physic Garden, successfully raised a species from seed in the mid-eighteenth century, the fuchsia did not become generally available until F. coccinea from Brazil and F. magellanica from Chile were introduced in the 1780s. The first Mexican species, F. arborescens, was introduced in the 1820s at the same time as F. excorticata arrived from New Zealand .

As more fuchsias were introduced, the variations between plants of the same species and the success of growers in producing crosses, led Sir William Jackson Hooker, director of Kew Gardens, to complain in 1859 that 'the difficulty of naming them correctly is, beyond anything, great'. Here I attempt to unravel some of the confusion concerning their introduction to English gardens.

Jan Broadway

F. regia & F. alpestris

F. corymbiflora & F. denticulata & F. apetala

F. excorticata

F. macrostigma

F. arborescens

F. fulgens

F. splendens

F. procumbens