Thursday 30 April 2015

Fuchsia (Fuchsia species)

The fuchsia is a deciduous shrub from the Onagraceae family. There are over 100 recognised species, the majority of which are native to Central and South America. There are now thousands of cultivars worldwide and they are popularly grown as an ornamental shrub in the British Isles. The Fuchsia genus was named after Leonhart Fuchs, a German physician and botanist born in 1501.

An image of the fuchsia megellanica shrub with purple and red flowers
F. megellanica

Fuchsia are easily recognised by their stunning pendulous flowers which come in a variety of colours and are usually very abundant. Fuchsias may be grown in the ground, in pots, as topiary and even as bonsai. There are hardy and half-hardy species.

Growing methods

Fuchsias should be grow in fertile well-drained moist soil. They prefer shelter from cold, drying winds and shade rather than direct hot sun. Half-hardy fuchsias should be kept free from frosts and need some protection during the winter months. It can help to mulch the crowns of even the hardy fuchsias to protect them from the worst of the winter weather. As a point of interest F. megallanica is the hardiest species. Cuttings of hardy fuchsias taken in early autumn can be used as an insurance against frost damage. Fuchsias flower more when placed in a sunny position and will happily grow in containers. Keep plants moist but don't let them become waterlogged.

Fuchsias can be propagated by taking softwood cuttings during spring and summer, semi-ripe cuttings during late summer and hardwood cuttings during the autumn.  Keep the soil moist and once they have rooted they can be potted on. Hardy fuchsias can be planted out in the spring or autumn. Half-hardy fuchsias can be planted out after all frosts have passed. To feed apply a dressing of general fertiliser in spring and again in summer.

Generally these shrubs do not suffer unduly from pests and diseases. However, some problems may arise from an infestation of aphids, mealybug, capsid bug, leaf hoppers, red spider mite, vine weevil, some caterpillars and more recently fuchsia gall mite. Fuchsias may also suffer from fuchsia rust which is caused by a fungus called Pucciniastrum epilobii.

There are many specialist fuchsia groups and societies who provide a lot of useful information on species and cultivation.

Raw edible parts

The flowers and fruit of all fuchsia species are edible raw but flavours may vary considerably. Regarding the flowers, removing the green and brown parts as well as the stamen pistils may improve the flavour of the petal. This isn't absolutely necessary and depends on individual species and even individual plants including where and how they have been grown. The flowers make a stunning display for salads, raw cakes, flans and desserts.

The branch sap of some species can be eaten by breaking off a branch and sucking out the sap. The sap may or may not be very forthcoming! We have yet to try this.

The fruit are a bit like an oblong jelly baby often with a peppery after taste. The darker the colour, the richer the flavour. It has been said that the fruit of some species may leave an unpleasant after taste in the mouth. F. splendens has been recommended as one of the best edible fruits. Ken Fern (Plants for a Future) says “A juicy berry[K]. This is the nicest fuchsia fruit we have eaten as yet, its flavour is somewhat lemon-like with no noticed aftertaste, our 12 month old child was ecstatic about them, eating them in quantity[K].”

Other species which are recorded as having a juicy fruit include F. boliviana, F. excorticata, F. paniculata, F. coccinea and F. fulgens. We also noticed, but haven't been able to track down any seeds or plants yet, is fuchsia 'Gummiberry' which was introduced by Suttons Seeds in 2014.

Further information

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