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A well-marked genus of hardy or half-hardy shrubs, of which all the species in cultivation except E. virgata are evergreen. The leading characters of the genus are: leaves alternate, simple, without stipules, often arranged in clusters on the twigs, each cluster in the axil of a larger leaf, and really representing a short branch; flowers white or red, mostly arranged in terminal racemes or panicles; petals five, long-clawed, free, but forming an imitation tube (except in E. virgata). Ovary inferior, enclosed in a top- or bell-shaped receptacle (hypanthium). This part of the flower is often referred to as the ‘calyx-tube’, but Dr Sleumer in his monograph on Escallonia uses this term for the basal part of the true calyx, which forms a rim above the receptacle and is divided into five lobes. The ovary is surmounted by a so-called disk, the shape and depth of which is useful for identification. It is narrowly conic or cylindric-conic in E. alpina, E. revoluta, E. rosea, and E. rubra; flat and truly disk-like in E. virgata; broadly conic or cushion-shaped in the other species described here. Fruit a capsule, with numerous small seeds. Many escallonias are furnished with resin glands on the leaves and branchlets, but these are far from being as abundant in cultivated plants as they are in wild ones. All of them are natives of S. America and are most abundant in Chile. The genus was named in honour of Escallon by the Spanish botanist Mutis, his companion and teacher.
As garden shrubs the escallonias are nearly all too tender to thrive well, except in the milder counties, without some protection. This protection is best afforded by a wall, and few evergreens make more effective and beautiful wall-coverings. For such as can be grown in the open a sunny position should be selected, and the soil should not be very rich – an ordinary sandy loam suffices, without manure or other fertilising material. They are easily increased by cuttings of half-ripened wood placed in pots of sandy soil in gentle heat. The wood is in proper condition in August.
The Chilean species of Escallonia are revised by E. Kausel in Darwinia, Vol. 10, pp. 169-225, 1951. More recently the whole genus has been revised by H. Sleumer in: Die Gattung Escallonia (1968), and this excellent monograph has been followed in the present revision.