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Epilobium canum (syn. Zauschneria californica)

October 3, 2022
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Epilobium canum

If it flowered in the middle of the alpine plant season in May-June, Epilobium canum would make a splash. Flowering as it does from late August to mid October it is a real show stopper. Not only are the flowers the most brilliant scarlet, they stand up proudly above the contrasting green to silvery-grey foliage. Even its North American vernacular name, ‘Californian fuchsia’, perhaps does it less than justice. But you must judge from the pictures here.

Epilobium (Zauschneria) californica 'Dublin' at Beth Chatto's garden

Epilobium (Zauschneria) californica 'Dublin' at Beth Chatto's garden

Epilobium canum is completely deciduous, the new growth not emerging from underground until late in the season. It then grows fast and is in flower within six weeks of its appearance. Ultimate height is about 40 cm. It spreads by underground stolons, which causes it sometimes to appear some distance from its parent. If these ‘suckers’ present themselves in inappropriate positions, they are easily removed and may with care be used as propagation material.

Epilobium canum has a wide distribution in south-western N. America, from New Mexico northwards to Oregon, westwards from California to Utah and Wyoming. It occurs in a variety of mostly dryland habitats throughout a wide altitude range. There are three sub-species. In cultivation there are several good named clones of E. canum, but unfortunately their precise origins in Ireland seem to have been lost in the mists of time. Suffice it to say, all forms are good and very similar in the garden, although some have hairier (greyer) foliage, which I prefer.


Epilobium canum

Epilobium canum close-up


Epilobium canum is easy to grow and very long-lived. In British gardens give it the hottest, driest spot you have and forget about it. In due course it will thrill you with its anticipated explosion of scarlet trumpets.


As I have already indicated, Epilobium canum can be increased by division, which is probably best done as the new shoots begin to appear. Additionally, soft tip cuttings (preferably without flower buds) generally root well if taken when the plant is growing quickly, and given a little heat. Seed may sometimes be produced in Britain, but I have never had any. This is perhaps not surprising, given the fact that like many trumpet shaped red flowers of N. America, it is normally pollinated by hummingbirds.

Author: John Good

John Good