Big Fuchsias

Larger Shrubs, Smaller Flowers

<em>Fuchsia paniculata</em>
Courtesy Photo

The inevitable fog is a boon to some plants. Species that originated in moist, cool sites such as the cloud forests in tropical America feel right at home when that summer foghorn starts to blow. Among these are some useful and beautiful species of fuchsia. These are not your grandmother’s hanging baskets spilling with ruffled bicolor bells, but handsome shrubs whose smaller flowers are a bit less showy, but pleasing nonetheless.

Fuchsia flowers are basically tubular with an inner set of petals that overlap rather tightly and an outer ring of sepals that often flare open from the mouth of the tube and may also be a contrasting color. In Fuchsia boliviana, both sepals and petals are red, the tubes slender and up to three inches long. Happily, the flowers appear nearly year-round and clothe the large (up to 12 feet high by eight feet wide) glossy-leaved shrub with their pendant clusters. There is another form, ‘Alba,’ that has paler blossoms in white and pinkish red. Even the resulting fruits are somewhat decorative.

Another good-sized species is F. glazioviana. It hails from Brazil and can serve as a good screening plant, growing six to 12 feet tall. Diminutive flowers in pink and purple are about an inch long. With even smaller flowers, F. paniculata also forms a dense shrub, but can reach 14 feet in height. Although the lavender and pink flowers are tiny, they grow in very large clusters that are often 10 inches across. At first sight, it resembles a lilac, but thrives in our mild winter climate much better than that more temperate shrub. Looking very similar to F. arborescens, F. paniculata is resistant to one of the most disfiguring insects to attack many fuchsias, the fuchsia gall mite.

This microscopic pest infests all parts of the plant, causing it to grow large clusters of very distorted leaves. The only cure is to cut off the infected portion and dispose of it in a sealed trash can. Once a plant is infected, it is nearly impossible to keep the gall mite under control. Luckily, all the shrubby species above are resistant and should perform admirably for years.

Another species from Peru and Bolivia is F. denticulata. It is not much planted in gardens, but has become an important parent in the move to create gall-mite–resistant hybrids. One of its better-known progeny is ‘Fanfare,’ which grows strong upright stems (up to 10 feet) that can be staked or espaliered. It has large flowers that are orange and red, so it can contribute nice genes for flower diversity, as well.

A few hours of sunshine in the cool part of the day will ensure good flower production, but as with any hybrid fuchsia, these species can also grow in shade. Keep the soil moist, and, especially during dry or windy spells, wash the foliage to keep humidity levels higher. A good layer of mulch will also help keep them happy. Prune in early spring before growth begins to promote blooms that appear on new wood.


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