Copihues de invierno/Chilean bell flower/Lapageria rosea

Lapageria rosea, commonly called the Chilean bellflower or copihue, is a large flowering vine native to the rainforest of South America. Perhaps the most desirable of all cultivated vines, this impressive and “exotic” plant is the national flower of Chile, where it is known as “Copihue”.

In the wild Lapageria rosea is found only in a narrow patch of rainforest between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountain Rage on the west coast of Chile. It is only found between 30 and 45 degrees latitude in Chile, according to the UC Berkeley. The plants can grow more than 30 feet in their natural habitat. As the sole species in its genus, this healthy vine has beautiful bell shaped flowers of up to 4 inches hanging from the upper area of the leaf axils. The six petal flower flares out into a large bell shape with the three on the exterior smaller in size and the inner three a large size. The standard color is rose crimson but the colors of the cultivars offer a myriad palette including blush, red, white, pink and are mottled or laced. There is a waxy cuticle on the surface of the flowers in different levels of thickness. The alternating leaves on the vines are oval and have a high gloss. The fruit is an oblong berry with a thick skin and many small seeds. The flesh is edible. Pollination occurs with hummingbird’s. In Chile, the fruit known as the pepino (cucumber) and was sold on the market but too much collecting and forest clearance endangered the species. It enjoys legal protection in Chile since 1977.

Copihue, its Araucan common name, or the Chilean Bellflower carries with it a romantic history, that parallels Shakespeare’s 1594 English-speaking version of star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet. Legend has it that two offspring, Copih and Hues of sparring Araucan pehuenches and mapuche tribes, met and fell in love. With their families mortal enemies, the forest provided them shelter to meet in secret. One day embracing by a lagoon, their families discovered them. Nahuel, head of the mapuche tribe and Princess Hues’ father, enraged at what he saw, threw his lance and penetrated Copih’s heart. With his death, Prince Copih sank into the lagoon waters. Copiniel, head of the pehuenches tribe and Copih’s father, likewise angered at the children’s involvement, slew the princess who upon death joined her lover in the lagoon. The tribal families mourned their children’s death. After the passing of a year, the two tribes met back at the lagoon to remember them. They arrived at night, and slept along the lagoon’s edge.

At dawn, an event unfolded. Two intercrossed lances rose from the lagoon bottom, a creeping vine (enredadera) connected them, from which hung beautiful blood red and milky white flowers. The enemy tribes recognized the enormity of this occurrence, and reconciled. To commemorate the union of their offspring, Copih and Hues, they named the flower ‘copihue’. Its Latinate, botanical name, Lapageria likewise sheds light on this vine. Lapageria derives from Lapagerie, the maiden name of Napoleon’s Empress Josephine. Her ardent support for plant life led her to create Malmaison garden, near Paris, where she housed a remarkable collection of exotic plant material. Botanists honored her service to horticulture, by bestowing this plant her name.

The Lapageria rosea or Chilean bellflower blooms from summer to late autumn. However, the Lapageria rosea ‘Toqui’ and ‘Collinge’ bloom through mid winter in city gardens. These delicate plants thrive in cool, frost-free climates and a good shaded garden site and soil are ideal conditions for this plant. While Lapageria rosea is quite rare in the plant trade, it is slowly becoming more common as it grows well in home gardens when provided with proper care, according to the University of California at Berkeley.
Source: ucbgdev.berkeley.edu – kwintessential

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