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A small shrub, or sometimes a semi-climber throwing up lax stems 10 ft or more long; young growths reddish, covered with a fine down, sometimes with longer hairs intermixed. Leaves opposite or in threes, narrow-ovate or ovate, up to 2 in. long, rounded or cordate at the base, tapered at the apex, to a fine point, downy on both sides and with longer hairs on the main veins beneath, notably towards the base of the midrib. Flowers much resembling those of F. magellanica but with the calyx-tube not exceeding 1⁄4 in. in length. Bot. Mag., t. 97 and t. 5740.
The native country of this fuchsia was for long uncertain. It was described by Dryander in 1789 from a plant growing at Kew, to which it had been introduced the previous year by a Captain Firth. Dryander erroneously identified Firth’s plant with the fuchsia seen in Chile earlier in the century by the French traveller Feuillée and figured in his ‘Itinerary’ (Journ. Obs. Phys. Math., Vol. 3, p. 64, t. 47). Hence Dryander’s statement in his original description that F. coccinea was a native of Chile. In fact the plant figured by Feuillée was F. magellanica and it was partly due to Dryander’s error that the two species came to be confused. Eighty years after the introduction of F. coccinea, Sir Joseph Hooker pointed out (Bot. Mag., t. 5740) that there were specimens of F. coccinea in the British Museum and at the Linnaean Society which had been received from Kew in the year the species was introduced and that these were not F. magellanica but agreed best with a Brazilian species. Recently, P. A. Munz in his monograph has adopted the name F. coccinea for the Brazilian species previously known as F. montana Cambess.
It is interesting that Sir James Edward Smith, author of the article on Fuchsia in Rees’ Cyclopaedia (Vol. 15, published 1819), gives what is probably the true history of the introduction of F. coccinea to Kew: ‘A plant of this species, apparently in a dead state, was brought by Capt. Firth to Kew Garden, from Lisbon, and it was said to have come from the Brazils. As the spring advanced, it began to sprout, and soon put forth its exquisitely beautiful flowers, to the admiration of all who beheld it.’
With regard to the fuchsia figured in the Botanical Magazine in 1789 as F. coccinea (t. 97), there is little doubt that it is the true F. coccinea of Brazil and not a form of F. magellanica. In the article accompanying the plate it was said that the species was introduced by the nurseryman Lee of Hammersmith. According to tradition, Lee obtained his plant from a sailor’s wife in Wapping; it is not unlikely that her husband came by it in the same way as Captain Firth had done, and at about the same time.
The true F. coccinea was almost extinct in gardens by 1867, in which year two plants were found growing in the greenhouses at the Oxford Botanical Garden and it was from one of these, presented to Kew, that the figure in the Botanical Magazine (t. 5740) was made. Unfortunately it is not in cultivation at Kew at the present time (1971) and seems to have become rare again. But the species is of considerable interest, since there is little doubt that it has played an important and largely unacknowledged role in the formation of the fuchsia hybrids. See further under F. ‘Globosa’ (p. 245).