Drawings of fuchsia blossoms tantalized Europeans well before the actual plants arrived. In 1695, Father John Plumier, a French Catholic priest, tried to send specimens of Fuchsia triphylla to Europe from the island we now call the Dominican Republic. He had made several drawings and was able to get them safely home, but all of the plants he had collected were lost when their ship sank in a storm. In spite of this inauspicious beginning, fuchsias have been collected from throughout their native range (Mexico to the southern tip of South America) and have become valued residents of our gardens.
The first fuchsias to become popular in Europe (Fuchsia triphylla and others) had long-tubed, red flowers. By the 1840s, a group of hybrids involving various species, but particularly F. magellanica and F. fulgens, had exceeded those first species in popularity. The new flowers were shorter and wider, and some were double, their many petals resembling the tutus of tiny ballerinas.
Fuchsias were introduced into California gardens soon after Americans settled here. In 1854, a flower show in San Francisco featured twenty-four hybrid fuchsias. Not only were fuchsias popular as show plants, grown in pots and hanging baskets, but they became popular as easy and dependable landscape shrubs where summers were on the cool side and winters mild. Gardeners in San Francisco often planted fuchsias in combination with the pink-flowered shrub impatiens (Impatiens sodenii, syn. I. oliveri), which, like the fuchsias, produced flowers all summer long and, in fact, almost year round. Both were easy to propagate by cuttings, and gardeners passed them around most of the year. Golden Gate Park’s Fuchsia Dell, begun in 1940, was a wonderland of shrubs decked with fanciful blossoms. Fuchsias were grown up and down the Pacific Coast, even into Vancouver, with frost protection where needed; inland gardeners loved the plants so much that they installed shade structures and elaborate sprinkler systems to help them through the hot dry summers.
Meanwhile, in England and Europe, fuchsias experienced a setback caused by two world wars. Military battles, economic difficulties, and the need to grow food rather than flowers meant that ornamental horticulture, especially when a greenhouse was required, suffered from the beginning of World War I until long after World War II. In 1930, a delegation of the newly formed American Fuchsia Society traveled to Europe to collect hybrid fuchsias in gardens there. Of the fifty-one cultivars they sent back by ocean liner, forty-eight survived; the collection was divided between Berkeley Horticultural Nursery (long known for its fuchsia offerings) and the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley. Breeding continued in this country until fuchsia fanciers had hundreds of choices of flower form and color.
San Francisco and the Bay Area remained the center of the fuchsia love affair until it was shipwrecked in 1981 by a small mite native to South America, accidentally introduced on some contraband plants. The fuchsia gall mite (Aculops fuchsiae), so tiny that it can only be seen with a powerful magnifier, enters the plant tissue and causes the plant to develop unsightly galls, often twisting stems, leaves, and flowers into nearly unrecognizable masses. Fuchsia enthusiasts first tried to fight the mite, but, after years of repeated pruning and spraying (with relatively toxic systemic miticides), all but the most dedicated gave up and ripped out their susceptible plants. Most of the plants were removed from the Golden Gate Park Fuchsia Dell and the sign was put into storage.
Things looked gloomy for fuchsias for some years. The first attempt to catalog gall mite-resistant fuchsias was in 1984, when CS Koehler, LR Costello, and WW Allen, all associated with the University of California, produced a list that was published in Pacific Horticulture (Winter ’84, page 13). The only plants they found to have no mite damage at all were Fuchsia minutifolia, F. thymifolia (probably F. xbacillaris), ‘Isis’, ‘Mendocino Mini’, ‘Miniature Jewels’, ‘Chance Encounter’, and ‘Ocean Mist’; a later retest showed only ‘Ocean Mist’ to be totally resistant.
Research determined that one of the main reasons for so many hybrid fuchsias falling prey to the gall mite was that most of them contained genetic material from Fuchsia magellanica, an exceedingly mite-susceptible species that passed the trait on to its hybrid progeny. Despite its susceptibility, this species is hardy and tough, so it still lives in many a garden, although its leaves and small purple and red flowers (or, in rare cases, pale pink ones) are often deformed by the mite.
Over the years, growers have continued to seek gall mite-resistant fuchsias by evaluating existing species and hybrids, and through breeding programs. Their work is beginning to bear flowers. While we are far from having a range of mite-resistant hybrids matching the diversity and size of the old ones, there are now many tempting choices available for gardeners who want to grow troublefree fuchsias.
Natural Resistance to Fuchsia Gall Mite
Many Fuchsia species have been found to resist the mite. Among them, F. splendens, from Mexico and Costa Rica, has rather wide red-or peach-colored tubes, and short green sepals and petals. Dubbed the “chili pepper fuchsia” by the nursery industry, it acts as a climber when support is available or shapes up as a seven-foot-tall shrub. From Brazil, F. glazioviana is a bushy plant, eighteen inches to ten feet tall, with small, shiny, myrtlelike leaves and flowers of bright pink sepals and purple petals. About one and a half inches long, the flowers are held out from the leaves at an angle and appear from spring to fall. Near the California coast, it makes a low spreading shrub in full sun. Also from Mexico, F. paniculata and F. arborescens are unusual in having large lilac-like panicles of flowers; though tiny, each pink flower has the flaredsepal form of a typical fuchsia. Fuchsia arborescens has shiny leaves, while those of F. paniculata are matte green. A superior F. arborescens hybrid from the Netherlands, ‘Miep Aalhuizen’, has somewhat larger flowers with tubes of a deeper pink (almost lavender) than the petals. It grows to five feet tall and wide.
Only a few classic fuchsia hybrids have been found to be fully mite resistant. ‘Coral Baby’, an old one with quarter-inch-long, single red and rose blossoms, passed muster. A new patented hybrid, ‘Dainty Angel’s Earrings’ (apparently a hybrid of F. regia) is a hanging basket type with classic red and purple flowers that seems fully resistant; the similar ‘Angel’s Earrings’ is nearly so. Other old hybrids, including ‘Constance’, ‘Corallina’, ‘Cardinal’, ‘Lena’, and ‘Rose of Castile Improved’ can still be found in Bay Area gardens, sometimes escaping the mite, sometimes showing symptoms of its presence.
Breeders have begun to use old hybrids and species to recreate the forms and variety of fuchsias that can no longer be safely grown in the Bay Area. Some of this breeding has been aimed at show flowers, the ones grown in pots or hanging baskets to compete on the basis of their flower form. A program sponsored by the San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum (SFBG) aims to create garden-worthy plants that can be used as landscape shrubs.
Breeding for Resistance
Botanist Peter Baye, a volunteer at Strybing in 1993 when he initiated the breeding program, has continued to send hybrids back to SFBG from his new home in Annapolis (Sonoma County). Recently, others have begun to work on creating mite-resistant plants, in some cases starting with Peter’s introductions.
One of the first introductions was determined to be a spontaneous hybrid between Fuchsia magellanica and F. campos-portoi, a resistant species. Named ‘Campo Thilco’, the plant has flowers similar in appearance and size to those of F. magellanica. While it may spread somewhat from suckers, it is suitable as a hedge or garden shrub and is hardy to at least Sunset zone 15. It is fully resistant to both gall mites and fuchsia rust. Sometimes mislabeled in nurseries as F. campos-portoi, ‘Campo Thilco’ has larger flowers than that species.
Since the development of this cultivar, a number of others have been introduced. Crossing F. ‘Campo Victrix’ with the old hybrid ‘Lye’s Unique’ resulted in two useful plants that mimic the appearance of their Victorian parents. ‘Galfrey Lye’ has white, slightly blushed tubes and sepals and smokey carmine pink petals; its arching stems are wine red. ‘Galfrey Blush’ has similar flowers, but the sepals have light pink tips; it has lighter green leaves on self-branching stems.
Work with Fuchsia splendens has created such hybrids as ‘Strybing’s Peach’ with a peach tube, green-tipped sepals, and pale yellow petals. This has an irregular growth habit and such heavy flowering that its vigor is reduced; however, it is quite rare to have any yellow on a fuchsia blossom.
In 1940, San Francisco horticulturist Victor Reiter introduced Fuchsia ‘Fanfare’, one or both parents of which would now be called F. denticulata. Featured in Pacific Horticulture (Winter ’83, page 53), it is a large, loosely climbing shrub, mite resistant, and best in cool coastal climates (Sunset zones 17 or 16; a smaller plant in parts of 15). Its big, waxy, flowers have two-inch-long orange red sepal tubes and red petals. Using F. denticulata and F. ‘Dominiana’ as parents, Peter Baye has created hybrids with even larger flowers. ‘Dr Mahoney’ and ‘Dr Godronson’ both have scarlet red tubular flowers, three inches or longer, on purple stems with large, oval, purplish leaves. Both have relatively high mite resistance and immunity to rust.
The Fuchsia Dell in Golden Gate Park was replanted in 1995 with resistant species and hybrids available at the time; even the sign has been replaced. Nurseries, botanical gardens, and college horticulture departments are offering plants with mite resistance. While the genetic re-exploration is just getting underway, it is becoming safe to love fuchsias again because of the possibility of finding great plants that are free of the dreaded fuchsia gall mite.
The usually colorful tube of a traditional garden fuchsia flower is formed of united sepals, which separate into four lobes that often flare outward. Inside the sepals are four petals (or more if the flower is double) that are often a different color from the sepals. The style and eight stamens, often brightly colored, usually extend beyond the petals. At the base of each floral tube is an ovary that ripens to a berry; it is edible, though usually rather bland.
While all fuchsia flowers share this basic structure, differing proportions of the flower parts and variations in the inflorescence make some sections of the genus fuchsia look quite unlike the traditional hybrid garden fuchsia; this is particularly true for the tiny flowered section Encliandra (Fuchsia xbacillaris, F. microphylla, and their hybrids) and the lilac-like F. arborescens and F. paniculata. Hard-core fuchsia traditionalists often avoid the species, whereas species collectors and specialists love them, and open-minded gardeners might appreciate them in their own right.
The fuchsia gall mite is one of the eriophyid mites (Aculops fuchsiae). It is spread to new plants by wind, insects, hummingbirds, and gardeners’ hands. Infestation of susceptible plants is more likely in some locations and some years than in others, largely a matter of chance. The mite thrives in the cool weather that most fuchsias also prefer. Coastal Northern California and Oregon seem to offer the perfect environment for the mite, but it is found throughout the West Coast and in Europe, mostly in areas mild enough for fuchsias to remain in the ground throughout the year.
Once mites enter a plant’s tissue, they can be killed by systemic insecticides, which are transferred into every cell of the plant. These poisons can harm bees and hummingbirds, so it is best to remove all blossoms for a few weeks after spraying. It is unlikely that repeated spraying with a systemic pesticide, combined with an application of oil spray in winter to kill mite eggs, will ever completely eliminate mites from a plant once they have become established.
If a plant shows only minor damage from mites, cutting off damaged growth several inches below the damage (and disposing of it outside the garden) may be enough to save the plant. Use gloved hands; remember that infested plants are teaming with invisible mites, so clean your shears, gloves, and hands before touching any healthy plants.
Fuchsia Gall Mite-Resistant Species and Cultivars
The following species and cultivars are reliably resistant to the fuchsia gall mite. Those marked by “+rust” are also resistant to rust.
F. ‘Angel’s Earrings’ +rust
F. ‘Arouet Fils’ (new for 2006)
F. xbacillaris (often mislabeled as F. thymifolia;
some of its hybrids are not resistant)
F. boliviana (but not its hybrids)
F. ‘Campo Molina’ +rust
F. ‘Campo Thilco’(often mislabeled as
F. campos-portoi) +rust
F. ‘Campo Vitrix’ (slight leaf damage)
F. ‘Campopple’ (slight leaf damage)
F. ‘Dainty Angel’s Earrings’ +rust
F. denticulata and its selected forms (such as
F. ‘Dr. Godronson’ (slight leaf damage) +rust
F. ‘Dr. Mahoney’ (slight leaf damage)
F. ‘Elegant Rose’ (slight leaf damage)
F. excorticata (an unusual tree from New Zealand)
F. ‘Fanfare’ +rust
F. ‘First Success’
F. fulgens (some of its hybrids are not resistant)
F. ‘Galfrey Blush’ (slight leaf damage) +rust
F. ‘Galfrey Lye’ (slight leaf damage)
F. ‘Grand Harfare’ +rust
F. ‘Hinnerike’ +rust
F. ‘Mendonoma Belle’ +rust (new for 2006)
F. ‘Miep Aalhuizen’
F. ‘Popplecorn’ (slight leaf damage)
F. procumbens (an unusual creeper from New
F. ‘Red Fanling’
F. sanctae-rosae (some strains may not be resistant;
the Strybing and Fuchsia Dell strain is)
F. splendens (some of its hybrids are not resistant)
F. ‘Strybing’s Peach’
F. vulcanica (rarely available)
A Mite-Resistant Fuchsia Resource Guide
For Further Reading Peter Baye encourages people to try their hand at creating some mite-resistant hybrids. This list of articles and the photocopied book are a good start toward learning what you need to know to do that.
Allsop, Mick. 2005. Hybridizing Fuchsias. American Fuchsia Society Bulletin 77, no. 2:4-6
Baye, Peter. 1996. Section Quelusia Hybrid Fuchsias with Resistance to Fuchsia Gall Mite: A Progress Report. American Fuchsia Society Bulletin 68, no. 6:8-12.
———. 2001. Breeding Gall Mite-resistant Fuchsia Hybrids at Strybing Arboretum: Update 2001. American Fuchsia Society Bulletin 72, no. 3:6-11.
———. 2000. Strybing Fuchsia, Species and Hybrids. An unpublished hand-bound set of color photocopies showing mite-resistant fuchsias, some with written descriptions and information on uses and care. A unique document cataloged in the Helen Crocker Russell Library, San Francisco Botanical Garden, as SB413 F8 B34 2000
———. 2005. Reviving Fuchsia Popularity: Sowing the Seeds of Success. American Fuchsia Society Bulletin 77, no. 4:5-8.
Berquist, Rodney. 2004. Food for Thought Regarding Fuchsia Gall Mites. American Fuchsia Society Bulletin 76, no. 3:4-6.
Hassett, Chuck. 1994. Species of Fuchsia as Orna-mental Garden Plants. American Fuchsia Society Bulletin 66, no. 5:4-5.
Nursery Sources Cistus Nursery
22711 NW Gillihan Road, Portland (Sauvie Island), OR 97231
Delta Farm & Nursery
3925 N Delta Highway, Eugene, OR 97408 541/485-2992, www.deltafarm.com (mail order)
253/631-8283, www.fuchsia.net (mail order)
www.fuchsialand.com (mail order only)
2301 N Hwy 1, Fort Bragg, CA 95437
fax 831/724-7729 (mail order)
Monnier’s Country Gardens
503/981-3384, fax 503/981-3179
www.monnierscountrygardens.com (mail order)
Regine’s Fuchsia Garden & Nursery
32531 Rhoda Lane, Fort Bragg, CA 95437-8736 707/964-0183