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Fuchsia – an attractive, bird-friendly solution for your damp gully
Alfie Kākā

Fuchsia – an attractive, bird-friendly solution for your damp gully

Alfie here! Today I’m chatting to Eleanor Burton about bird friendly native plants, and especially our native fuchsia. Eleanor is in charge of the collections database at Otari, and is also an arborist, botanist, and botanical illustrator.

Alfie: Eleanor, I know you have visited and worked in many gardens in Wellington, including the spectacular Otari-Wilton Bush. Which bird-attracting native plants have you seen do well in Wellington gardens?

Eleanor: I’m thinking about the bird-attracting trees in my garden. I think the best one is the kowhai when in flower, right outside my kitchen window and full of tui. I also have ngaio trees, which kereru love when they are in fruit. I used to have a rewarewa, but we unfortunately lost it in the June storm. Again the tui love the flowers. I would like to grow tree fuchsia, also known as kotukutuku (Fuchsia excorticata) but I am lacking a damp gully, so I have to enjoy them at Otari. I am growing creeping fuchsia (Fuchsia procumbens), the creeping groundcover fuchsia, not so much for birds, but it is good cover for lizards, and they might also eat the fruit.

Alfie: from my aerial visits around Wellington, I know there are many Wellingtonians struggling with finding good plants for their difficult damp gullies. Imagine what a difference it would make if they planted them with fuchsia!

Eleanor: Yes – fuchsia attracts nectar-feeding birds such as tui and bellbirds when in flower, and the fruit are also good bird food.

Alfie: at Zealandia I regularly see bellbird with blue noses from eating fuchsia pollen, and I know they make the best nesting holes for kakariki and even kaka. What makes them good as garden plants? 

Eleanor: Native fuchsias are attractive garden plants. They are not as showy as the exotic varieties, but they have some unusual qualities. The tree fuchsia flowers change colour as they age from greeny-purple through to pinky-red, with unusual blue pollen. And they are the largest fuchsia plant in the world, growing as a small tree rather than a shrub like the exotic varieties. They make a lovely garden tree as long as you don’t mind deciduous. They are interesting year-round as even after they’ve lost their leaves, they show orange, peeling bark. Tree fuchsia grows best in a damp sheltered spot, and in the wild prefers stream-sides as a habitat. If you don’t have the right spot for a tree fuchsia, go to the other extreme and try a creeping fuchsia – the smallest fuchsia in the world. It is also the only fuchsia which bears its flowers upright rather than drooping down, and the flowers are very colourful and are followed by large bright-red fruit. Creeping fuchsia is easy to grow and not too picky about growing conditions, though it will do best in good light and likes something to climb or scramble over, though it also makes a satisfactory groundcover.

Alfie: Thank you Eleanor – I’m glad to hear I’m not the only fuchsia fan. And in parting, I would like to share a handy hint on how to spell fuchsia – I’ve seen it spelled every which way. All people need to remember is that it is named after the German botanist Leonhart Fuchs. And if that is still a bit tricky, just remember there is a couple of ways to pronounce it :<> (yep – you’ll now never forget!)

TREE FUCHSIA FACTS

  • Height 5m and spread 2m
  • Semi-deciduous
  • Spring flowers
  • Cool, moist soil in a sheltered spot
  •  

CREEPING FUCHSIA FACTS

  • Ground cover 20cm high to 1.5m wide
  • Semi-deciduous
  • Frost tender
  • Violet-yellow flowers September-May followed by red berries November-July
  •  

Fuchsia procumbens. Illlustration by Eleanor Burton.
Bellbird (Korimako) with blue pollen on its face. Photo by Steve Attwood.

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