Fuchsia History


A Brief History of the Fuchsia

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 10 May 1566. Besides his medical knowledge, according to his record of activities which was extensive for the time, he studied plants. This was natural, as 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 in the Journal des Observations Botaniquesin 1725. Thiles was the name by which the plant was known in southern Chile where Plumier discovered it.

Leonhart Fuchs (1501-1566)

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 ? F. macrostemma and F. arborescens X F. coccinea where the quality of the resultant plants was unrecorded.

Charles Plumier (1646-1704),
discovered the genus ca.1704

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.