Copihue

Copihue

[koh-pee-wey]

The Copihue (co-pee-way) (Lapageria rosea), also known as the Chilean Bellflower and Chilean Glory Flower, is the national flower of Chile. It grows in forests in the southern part of Chile, being part of the Valdivian flora. It is the only species in the genus Lapageria, and is an evergreen climbing plant reaching up to 10 m high among shrubs and trees. The flowers are red, with six tepals; the fruit is an edible berry with numerous small seeds. In the wild the plant is pollinated by hummingbirds.

The fruit is colloquially known in Chile as a pepino (cucumber), bearing some resemblance to a gherkin, but tasting a bit like a cherimoya. In the past, the fruit was sold in markets, but the plant has now become rare through over-collection and forest clearance. The name of the fruit in Mapudungun is actually kopiw, which is the etymon of Spanish copihue; the Mapuche call the plant kolkopiw (colcopihue in Spanish, which may also refer to the whole plant). The flower is called kodkülla in the indigenous language.

There are a substantial number of named garden cultivars, mostly developed at one nursery in Chile, with flower colour varying from deep red through pink to pure white (L. rosea 'Albiflora'), and some with variegated flowers. In cultivation, to obtain fruit it is generally necessary to pollinate by hand. The plants need to be cross-pollinated between two plants grown from different seeds. Propagation is also possible by division or layering.

Lapageria rosea is related to Philesia magellanica (syn. P. buxifolia), another plant from the Valdivian flora, closely related to L. rosea, having similar flowers, but is a shrubby plant bearing some similarity to a heath.

The rare plant × Philageria veitchii is a natural hybrid between L. rosea and P. magellanica. It is more similar in appearance to the former.

There are several legends in Chile relating to the origin of the Copihue. One tells of how, after a great battle of the mapuche people, some survivors climbed trees to see the outcome of the battle. Seeing that all their friends were dead, they wept, and their tears became flowers of blood, to honor the souls of their dead friends.

Another legend tells of two leaders of the Mapuche people: Hues, the daughter of Copiñiel, the leader of all the mapuches; and Copih, the chieftain of the pehuenche tribe. The two young people secretly fell in love. One day, Copiñiel found them exchanging vows on the banks of the Nahuel lake, and, in a fit of rage, ordered them both stabbed through the heart by spears. His guards obeyed, and the two lovers were killed, fell into the lake, and disappeared in the water.

Some time later, both the mapuche and Pehuenche tribes met on the banks of the lake to mourn the deaths of the two. At sunrise, they saw two spears rise from the water, intertwined by a vine, on which grew two large flowers, one as red as blood, and the other as white as snow. They called these flowers copihue, in honor of the two lovers, Copih and Hues.

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