Firing Up For Summer

At a cursory glance, the hedgerows of eastern South America do not look too dissimilar from those back home. but then a flash of orange makes you aware you are seeing something different – Embothrium lanceolata, the Chilean Firebush


Growing in the Andes, this has proved hardier than E. coccineum, a lowland species with broader leaves. But it can still prove tricky as described on the Burncoose website:

“We have found, after many experiments and failures, that embothriums perform best in full sun in hot but wind sheltered locations. They need lime free (ie acidic) soil which is well drained and not prone to waterlogging as well as being not too heavy. That does not mean that the soil should not remain moist and it is not a bad idea to lay slate slabs around and over the roots of younger plants in very dry locations until the plants get established.

The addition of fertiliser (dung or granular feed) anywhere near the plant will almost always cause it to die. This is why we grow these plants in the nursery in a mixture of soil and peat without any slow release fertiliser in the compost.

Customers laugh when we recommend planting three of these expensive plants out in the garden at the same time rather than just one. However, embothriums are notorious for ‘turning up their toes’ quickly if they dislike their location. Once they have achieved a couple of seasons’ new growth they will however romp away and grow very quickly indeed. In the correct position they should begin to flower in the third year after planting.

To give you an idea of just how temperamental these plants can be we find that when we pot them on, or even move them to a new location in the nursery, part of each batch often dies in protest.

So there is an element of careful planning and more than a little luck in selecting a suitable location for these difficult to establish plants. When we last planted three out in the Burncoose garden the one which went away best was in very poor stony soil in a location where its survival was doubtful. The one in the best location of course died immediately!”

In 2005, I boldly planted one and waited for its orange flowers. And waited and waited. It then blew over in a gale and was righted It blew down again. It was righted again and firmly staked. But still there were no flowers. The position was too shady and there were no floral fireworks. Fortunately, a large tree between it and the sun in a neighbour’s garden turned up its toes and died. The extra light triggered flowers in 2012 and every year since.

Embothrium lanceolatum 'Norquinco' - 2014 - Copy

The form E. l. ‘Norquinco’ is the hardiest, and my firebush survived the bad winter of 2010/11 and the recent ‘Beast from the East’ without any setback.

This is a shrub that can form thickets of suckers in the wild, but mine has only produced a couple so far. Careful detachment in February and potting into ericaceous compost offers the best chance of successful propagation as long as you put the pot in a “suitable location!”


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