California Fuchsia

Plant of the Month

Cliff Hutson
RSABG Volunteer, Nature Interpreter

It has been said that the only constant in the universe is change. The field of plant taxonomy is no exception. Thus, one nature interpreter has been heard to present this month’s plant as the “wildflower formerly known as Zauschneria,” as he tries to recall its new name.

California fuchsia is now called Epilobium canum, reflecting a decision that it is no longer a separate genus but should be lumped in with fireweed. That still keeps it in the evening primrose family (Onagraceae). It is a somewhat shrubby grayish green plant that grows 1 to 3 feet tall. The 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inch flowers are trumpet-shaped (with a resemblance to those of fuchsias) and generally described as red or scarlet, although they may vary from a pinkish cast to nearly orange.

The flowers bloom from late summer through late fall in synchrony with the southward hummingbird migration. Migrants and resident hummers seeking nectar at the Garden can find Epilobium across from the RSABG Administration Building in the Johnson Memorial Oval and also in the Cultivar Garden. Its natural habit is dry slopes and ridges from sea level and on up into the mountains. It ranges from southwestern Oregon to Baja California and east to southwestern New Mexico.

Epilobium will do tolerably well in cultivation. It prefers a well-drained soil, likes full sun and requires little watering. Suggested use is on hillsides or in informal gardens as it is rangy, untidy and tends to spread into other beds due to invasive roots.

Most gardeners will probably ignore the change from Zauschneria to Epilobium. I also prefer the former; it is easy to remember as I associate it with the sound of sneezing. However, as a duly sworn representative of RSABG, I am going to try to get with the program and remember the new one—although, by any other name, it would still be very attractive to hummingbirds which need to refuel on their journeys.