Friday, 20 May 2011

Creeping Fuchsia

Fuchsia is mostly a South American genus, with about 100 species.  The three New Zealand species and one in Tahiti (F. cyrtandroides) are distinctive in the genus because they have blue pollen, plus some flower and chemical features that are unique to this group.  The original description of the bellbird said it had a blue patch on its head, but that was a patch of Fuchsia pollen; flowers are pollinated by bellbirds and tuis in New Zealand, and by hummingbirds in South America.  [Note, added 17 Dec 2018 after Rob's question below: I can't find the reference for the pollen on the early bellbird collection anywhere, so I'm not sure it's correct.] The pollen is distinctive, and has been identified in sediment of Oligocene age in Australia, although Fuchsia doesn't grow wild there now.

Mostly Fuchsias are shrubs, like F. magellanica, which is naturalised in many places; I've seen it often in New Zealand gardens and once as a wild plant in Co. Cork, Ireland.
Fuchsia magellanica, Eastwoodhill, Gisborne.

In New Zealand, we have two unusual species, F. excorticata, which is a small tree, and F. procumbens, which is a softly woody creeping vine.  Fuchsia flowers usually hang down, but if F. procumbens flowers hung down they'd drag on the ground, so instead they're erect.  At this time of year, creeping Fuchsia has large red berries.
Fuchsia procumbens, Karori, Wellington
Like many bird-pollinated flowers, F. excorticata flowers are red, but Lynda Delph and Curt Lively have shown that the birds visit them when they're green, like the one at the bottom of the photo below.  Red colouring seems to be a signal that the flower is old and not worth visiting.
Fuchsia excorticata, Karori Wldlife Sanctuary.


  1. are they edible for humans

  2. Yes, they are edible. The fruits of F. procumbens, although large, are pretty dry, mostly hollow, and contain hundreds of seeds. But F. excorticata fruits are juicy and sweet. They have a mild flavour, a bit like blueberries I think, and they're pretty nice with ice cream. Māori call the plant kōtukutuku, and give the fruits a name of their own, kōnini, which indicates their importance.

  3. Kia ora Phil,

    Neat article, this was just what I was looking for.
    Is there any chance you could point me in the direction of the early description of the bell bird you mention with a blue patch on its head? I'm writing an article on Fuchsia at the moment and would like to include this if possible.


  4. Hello Rob, I'm very sorry I'm late getting to your question; the email linked to the blog has been broken for a while. I've been looking for that reference for a while myself, and I can't find it anywhere. I'll add a note above to make that clear.