Tom Karwin, on gardening | Spring Flowering Plants of Chile – Monterey Herald

Take care of your garden

Recent chronicles have provided brief glimpses of plants native to many of the world’s dry summer (Mediterranean) climates. These climatic regions include California, so all summer dry plants are compatible with the Monterey Bay region. Today’s column focuses on the plants of Chile.

Chile’s borders are reflected in its long, thin shape: 61 miles wide and 4,000 miles long. By comparison, California is 250 miles wide and 770 miles long. Chile has the very long Andes mountain range to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west.

The flora of Chile includes fewer species than in other regions of South America, but there are many attractive varieties and a high percentage of plants native (endemic) to this county. Several plants that grow across the Andes in Peru also grow in Chile.

Chile’s geographic length means that its plant life spans different growing conditions. These can be divided into three roughly equal areas: the northern deserts, central Chile, and the humid southern regions.

While plants in all three zones thrive in a dry summer climate, plants in the 1,250-mile-long central region are most compatible with gardens along the California coast. The deserts of California have plants like those in the desert region of northern Chile, but California does not have the humidity of the southern region of Chile.

This unusual soil may look very exotic from a gardening perspective, but many of its native plants are familiar to California gardens. Examples include the following:

Mountain angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia sanguinea). This 8 to 10 foot tall shrub typically has trumpet-shaped orange-red flowers with yellow veins or orange blooms; other varieties have orange, yellow or even pink flowers.

Rock purslane (Cistanthe grandiflora. This succulent (formerly called Calandrina) grows 1 foot tall and 3 feet wide and from spring to fall produces brilliant purple flowers on stems 2 to 3 feet tall.

Peruvian lily (Alstromeria). Despite its common name, many species of this plant are native to Chile or other parts of South America and naturalized in many parts of the world. Many cultivars of this plant can be found in home gardens. An evergreen variety, A. aurantiaca, grows about 3 feet tall and produces numerous yellow, orange, or orange-red flowers. This plant spreads vigorously through fleshy roots and can become invasive. By the way, he really isn’t a member of the Lily family.

Rain Lily (Zephyranthes candida). This plant produces grass-like leaves and, in response to occasional rains, produces 1-2 inch white flowers on 6-10 inch stems from late summer to early fall. . A lovely little plant that should be watered during our increasingly dry periods of summer. Also, not a member of the Lily family.

Wonder of Peru/Four O’clock (Mirabilis jalapa). The generic name means “wonderful”, referring to its extraordinary production of flowers of different colors and patterns on the same plant. The common name indicates the flowering time of each day, although my plants often flower later in the day, continue through the night, and fade in the morning. This plant creates many seeds that grow easily and develop substantial tuberous roots.

Chile’s native plants include many other attractive plants that are less common in Caliornia gardens. Here are some selected examples from my garden.

Chilean jasmine (Mandevilla laxa). An evergreen vine, this plant grows 15 to 20 feet tall on a custom-made copper trellis and produces fragrant 2-inch-wide flowers during the summer. I had to cut this vine to the ground in preparation for painting the house, and it had grown back wonderfully. My aspiration is to accompany it with a Chilean bellflower (Lapageria rosea), the national flower of this country, and another high-growing vine with red trumpet-shaped flowers.

Sacred Flower of the Andes (Cantua buxifolia ‘Hot Pants’). This erect shrub grows six feet tall and produces a profusion of orange to magenta pink flowers. This plant thrives in full sun and is a magnet for hummingbirds. It has a messy, sprawling shape, so it’s best managed by planting several branches together and cutting off the longest stems. This should be done after flowering, as it blooms on old wood.

Hardy Fuchsia (F. magellanica ‘Aurea’). This plant native to Chile and Argentina, notable for its resistance to Fuchsia Gall (Aculops fuchsiae) mites, has been widely hybridized to provide attractive cultivars for the garden. It should be pruned severely in early spring after new growth has appeared, then tapered to encourage the bush.

Advance your knowledge

An online source of information about these plants Chileflora (, which includes articles, a gallery of Chilean landscapes and a database of plants native to the country. The Chileflora website also offers seeds for many Chilean plants that could be welcome additions to your garden.

Upcoming garden webinars:

The Cactus & Succulent Society of America will present the webinar, “Euphorbia II: Spiny Shrubs and Mound Formers,” at 10 a.m. Saturday. Presenter Bob Webb will describe several species of Euphorbias, native to Yemen, East Africa, South Africa and Namibia. If you already have euphorbias in your garden, this webinar will provide you with useful information on the horticulture and propagation of these plants. To register for this free event, go to

The Ruth Bancroft Garen & Nursery will present the “Dry Garden Botany 101” webinar, at 10 a.m. on March 19. “With a focus on dry garden plants, this course will give you the basics to understand how plants are scientifically classified into different families and an overview of plant parts. This is a paid event. To register, go to and scroll through “Featured Events” (where later events are also listed).

Enrich your gardening days

Chilean plants could be interesting to explore when you are developing your garden for spring blooms. You can find these plants by searching the internet for their botanical names. While many of these plants are included on mail order nursery websites, some sites include listings by country of origin.


Tom Karwin is past president of the Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society, and the Monterey Bay Iris Society, and UC Lifetime Master Gardener (certified 1999-2009 ). He is now a board member and garden coach for the Santa Cruz Hostel Society. To see daily photos of her garden, For information on gardening coaching and an archive of previous On Gardening columns, visit Contact him with comments or questions at

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