Back to the Fuchsia

By Nathan Smith

Fuchsias are a ubiquitous garden plant. Their flowers, like pirouetting ballet dancers, are homely plants found throughout the UK. They line lawns and sit unimposingly in shrubberies, blending in with monotonous masses of leaves, until summer when they flower and bring forth bursts of spectacular spectral variance to an otherwise viridian view.

However it wasn’t always this way. Fuchsias, like so many British sensibilities, aren’t even that British. Indeed, up until the 1700’s fuchsias knew not the soil of any European land. Largely Natives of the Americas, they were initially discovered by the French monk Charles Plumier(1646-1704), whose skill was such that he was appointed botanist to the king of France.

Tropical Fuschia (Credit Alex Steeples)

Tropical Fuchsia (Credit Alex Steeples)

Plumier first chanced upon fuchsias in 1696 on the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean (part of the modern day Dominican Republic and Haiti), and published his description of them in 1703. The plant was introduced to England by Plumier himself, who brought its seeds back from his travels. However, as one might expect, many sources instead credit an English sailor with introducing the plant.

Interestingly, the flower is not named after the colour fuchsia. Rather the colour is named after the plant, which is named after a German botanist, cementing the continental influence. The botanist was Leonhart Fuchs (1501-1566), a man noted for his detailed botanical illustrations and book on herbal medicine.

The delicate flowers dance gently in the summer breeze, seemingly typical for an English country garden. But, discovered by a French monk on a Spanish Island and named after a German botanist, it seems that fuchsias are more cosmopolitan than we give them credit for.

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