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Gentle Weather Encourages Delicate Blooms

This article was first published on 19 Feb 2014.

Philesia magellanica

Philesia magellanica

We may be hoping for an Indian summer at the moment, but in the Rhododendron Dell at Dunedin Botanic Garden we are enjoying the flowers of three plants from a Chilean summer.

All three are growing by the edge of the Sunken Walk, just west of the Cherry Walk. At the south end, several divisions of Philesia magellanica have established well. About 30 metres up the track, Crinodendron patagua is the bushy small tree with white pendulous flowers, and near the north end of the track, is Chile’s national flower, Lapageria rosea.

At first glance Philesia and Lapageria look quite different.  One is a low, scrubby plant with wiry growth and narrow pointed leaves while the other is a multi-stemmed vine with broad leathery leaves growing to about 5 metres. However, they are both in the Philesia family and there is no doubting their relationship when you look at the flowers. Both have tubular, pointed buds which then unfurl into waxy, pink funnels with clustered, bright yellow stamens. Of the two, Philesia flowers are more finely textured and a much lighter pink. In fact, they look so graceful that they are almost incongruous with the wiry tangle of growth that supports them.

The small bell-like flowers on Crinodendron patagua are lightly scented and although not as showy as the other two, are eye-catching against the dark oval foliage.

All prefer moist, partly shaded areas, so their sheltered site and our wet summer have at least given us a little more colour to enjoy.

Doug Thomson is curator of the Rhododendron Dell at Dunedin Botanic Garden