A Slice of Chile in Dunedin
This article was first published on 30 Apr 2021.
Photo by the Otago Daily Times
Autumn to early winter is the main flowering time for Lapageria rosea, the Chilean bell-flower. It can flower earlier if summer conditions give it the abundant moisture it enjoys, but normally it waits summer out till cooler temperatures and rain come with the change of season.
Although there has only been minimal rain recently, the Chilean bell-flowers in the Rhododendron Dell at Dunedin Botanic Garden have taken their chance and are flowering well. In the Rhododendron Dell, they are planted on the edge of the native bush just west of the Cherry Walk clothing the trunks and branches of the trees they use for support.
Lapageria is an ideal climber for woodlands which gives them the semi-shaded conditions they require. They range in height from about 4 to 6 metres, sending up stiff grey-brown stems with dark green leathery leaves. The thickly textured pink bells are pollinated by hummingbirds in the wild, so without their help here, pollination tends to be haphazard, with only a few fruits appearing. Consequently, propagation is most reliable by cutting division or layering. Although normally pink, there is a white form, Lapageria rosea var. albiflora one of which is also flowering now.
On the edge of the same stretch of bush is Chilean bell-flower’s cousin Philesia magellanica, a shrubby, wiry-stemmed scrambler which flowers earlier in the season. They are the only two genera in the family Phileseaceae, containing only one species each. Together though they can provide exquisite flowering from December through to June.