Fuchsia is a genus of flowering plants, mostly shrubs and can grow long shoots, which were identified by Charles Plumier in the late-17th century, and named by Plumier in 1703 after the German botanist Leonhart Fuchs (1501–1566). The English vernacular name Fuchsia is the same as the scientific name.
There are about 100–110 species of Fuchsia. The great majority are native to South America, but with a few occurring north through Central America to Mexico, and also several from New Zealand, and Tahiti. One species, Fuchsia magellanica, extends as far as the southern tip of South America occurring on Tierra del Fuego in the cool temperate zone, but the majority are tropical or subtropical. Most fuchsias are shrubs from 0.2–4 m (8 in-13 ft) tall, but one New Zealand species, Kotukutuku (Fuchsia excorticata), is unusual in the genus in being a tree, growing up to 12–15 m (39-49 ft) tall.
Fuchsia leaves are opposite or in whorls of 3–5, simple lanceolate and usually have serrated margins (entire in some species), 1–25 cm long, and can be either deciduous or evergreen depending on the species. The flowers are very decorative pendulous "eardrop" shape, borne in profusion throughout the summer and autumn, and all year in tropical species. They have four long, slender, sepals and four shorter, broader, petals; in many species the sepals are bright red and the petals purple (colours that attract the hummingbirds that pollinate them), but the colours can vary from white to dark red, purple-blue, and orange. A few have yellowish tones, and recent hybrids have added the color white in various combinations. The ovary is inferior and the fruit is a small (5–25 mm) dark reddish green, deep red, or deep purple, edible epigynous berry containing numerous very small seeds. Many people describe the fruit as having a subtle grape flavor spiced with black pepper.
The vast majority of garden hybrids have descended from a few parent species.
Species in this section have the nectary fused to the base of the hypanthium (tube). The hypanthium is cylinder shaped and is generally no longer than the sepals. The stamens are long and extend beyond the corolla (petals) (exserted).
This section contains three species.
This section possesses a single species. This species has pedicels which are in the axils and are pendulous. The leaves are sparse and the sepals are reflexed and slightly shorter than the tube.
The main characteristics of this section include a floral tube that is swollen above the ovary (future fruit). The sepals curve back on themselves and the petals are small or near absent. Skinnera are primarily from New Zealand, with one species (F. cyrtandroides) from Tahiti.
The species in this section are characterised by a nectary that is fused with the base of the flower tube with petals that are partly or completely lacking.
Flowers on species in this section have flat petals, short stamens and are reflexed into the tube. Fruits contain few seeds.
Fuchsias are popular garden shrubs, and once planted will give years of pleasure for minimal amount of care. The British Fuchsia Society maintain a list of "hardy" fuchsias that have been proven to survive a number of winters throughout Britain and to be back in flower each year by July. Enthusiasts report that hundreds and even thousands of hybrids survive and prosper throughout Britain.
Fuchsias from sections Quelusia (F. magellanica and variants, F. regia, etc), encliandra (some encliandra hybrids flower continuously), Skinnera (F. excorticata, F. perscandens) and Procumbentes (F. procumbens is suitable as a groundcover) are proven to be hardy in widespread areas of Britain and Ireland. Some temperate species will survive outdoors in the temperate areas, though may not always flower in the average British summer.
Due to a very temperate climate fuchsias grow abundantly in the West Cork region of Ireland and are associated with the area to such an extent that a local branding initiative uses the fuchsia flower as their logo.
Among horticultural writers the fuchsia is jocularly referred to as "the world's most carefully spelled flower," a label which was apparently first given to it by Jimmy Barnes.
Leonhart Fuchs was born in 1501. He occupied the chair of Medicine at the Tübingen University from the age of 34 until his death, on the 10th May 1566. Besides his medical knowledge, according to his record of activities which was extensive for the time, he studied plants. This was natural, for most of the remedies of the time were herbal and the two subjects were often inseparable.
In the course of his career Fuchs wrote De Historia Stirpium, which was published in 1542. In honour of Fuchs' work the fuchsia received its name shortly before 1703 by Charles Plumier. It was Plumier who compiled his Nova Plantarum Americanum, which was published in Paris in 1703, based on the results of his plant-finding trip to America in search of new genera.
The fuchsia was in England in the 18th century when Plumier took some seeds there after his expedition. The species he took was Fuchsia triphylla flore coccinea where specimens appeared in France. This may account for its reference under the name of "Thiles" in the Journal des Observations Botaniquesin 1725. Thiles was the name by which the plant was known in southern Chile where Plumier discovered it.
Professor Philip Munz, in his A Revision of the Genus Fuchsia, 1793 says, however, that the fuchsia was first introduced into England by a sailor who grew it in a window where it was observed by a nurseryman from Hammersmith, a Mr. Lee, who succeeded in buying it and propagating it for the trade. This was one of the short tubed species such as magellanica or coccinea.
This report is further embellished in various publications where Captain Firth, a sailor, brought the plant back to England from one of his trips to his home in Hammersmith where he gave it to his wife. Later on James Lee of St. Johns Wood, nurseryman and an astute businessman, heard of the plant and purchased it for £80. He then propagated as many as possible and sold them to the trade for prices ranging from £10 to £20 each.
In the Floricultural Cabinet, 1855, there is a report which varies slightly from the above. Here it says that F. coccinea was given to Kew Garden in 1788 by Captain Firth and that Lee acquired it from Kew.
By this time plant-collecting fever had spread and many species of numerous genera were introduced to England, some living plants, others as seed. The following plants were recorded at Kew: F. lycioides, 1796; F. arborescens, 1824; F. microphylla, 1827; F. fulgens, 1830; F. corymbiflora, 1840; and F. apetala, F. decussata, F. dependens and F. serratifolia in 1843 and 1844, the last four species attributable to Messrs. Veitch of Exeter.
With the increasing numbers of differing species in England plant breeders began to immediately develop hybrids to develop more desirable garden plants. The first recorded experiments date to 1825 as F. arborescens Χ F. macrostemma and F. arborescens X F. coccinea where the quality of the resultant plants was unrecorded.
Between 1835 and 1850 there was a tremendous influx to England of both hybrids and varieties, the majority of which have been lost.
In 1848 Monsieur Felix Porcher published the second edition of his book Le Fuchsia son Histoire et sa Culture. This described 520 species. In 1871 in later editions of M. Porchers book reference is made to James Lye who was to become famous as a breeder of fuchsias in England. In 1883 the first book of English fuchsias was published.
Between 1900 and 1914 many of the famous varieties were produced which were grown extensively for Covent Garden market by many growers just outside London. During the period between the world wars, fuchsia-growing slowed down as efforts were made toward crop production until after 1949, where plant and hybrid production resumed on a large scale.