Lapageria is a monotypic genus meaning there is only one unique species of this fantastic plant.
The National Flower of Chile it is known to festoon the trees, shrubs and natural areas in Chile making a spectacular sight.
It has been called the "aristocrat of climbers", one of the "greater glories' of climbers and one of the most beautiful of all flowering climbers. Certainly plant collectors and horticulturists want to obtain and grow this plant, not just one but as many as possible.
As an aristocrat it is fitting it was named after Empress Josephine de la Pagerie of France and was pursued by Napoleon and married him. She was a keen gardener particularly with roses.
Interestingly Lapageria belongs to the family Philesiaceae which includes only two genera Lapageria and Philesia making it a member of one of the smallest flowering plant families. It was introduced into cultivation in Europe at Kew Gardens in 1874.
To grow this plant well one needs to understand what conditions it likes best and how it grows in its native habitat.
Strong, wiry, slender, twinning stems grow from underground rootstock and these stems may reach 5 metres long and of course need some support because in the wild they climb over nearby plants and trees. These stems are supported by a strong root system which needs unrestricted soil conditions. It grows best in a cool place with deep, moist acid soil, well drained and with lots or organic matter and mulch.
It like humidity, moderate summer temperatures, needs sun but dislikes long exposure to very hot bright sun. Best if it has some partial shade in the sunniest part of the day. It will not tolerate heavy frosts either. So choice of position is critical.
Along these long wiry stems alternate, leathery semi glossy, deep green, heart shaped, 10cm, evergreen leaves with 5 prominent veins appear.
Spectacular rosy crimson flowers with white spots may appear in late spring, summer and autumn. These distinctive, beautiful, bell shaped flowers air about 8cm long with six long, heavy, waxy petals hang singly or in clusters from leaf axils on the upper part of the plant. Flowers usually appear on old wood rather than new and last for several weeks.
Traditionally there have been two colours, rosy crimson the actual species, and pure white Lapageria rose 'albiflora'. Today there are many shades and named cultivars grown in the world. Many have been raised in the USA. Some plantsmen recommend growing these two varieties together.
The flowers are followed by yellow green, oblong, fleshy fruit (technically called berries) and inside amongst the sticky pulp are ovoid shaped seeds.
As a single species which has its main flower colour as red the cross pollination of flowers which have slight or significant colour variations can lead to new forms being grown. Even the long known white variety will not produce white off spring from seed. However in recent years there has been a range of colours produced which are interesting and in future we may see some more.
The flowers have to be cross pollinated from another flower or plant in order to set seed.
When harvesting seeds they should not be allowed to dry out and when sown will germinate in about 13C after about 5 weeks.
Like many plants once grown from seed we may still have to wait 3 -5 years for the new plants to flower. Layering of special coloured forms using strong stems is another way to increase the number of plants, but it is slower.