National Geographic : 1947 Jul
South America Rich in Plant Life IF THE California coast were to be placed on the shore of the Pacific in Peru, only the projecting tips of Maine and Florida would dip into the Atlantic on the opposite side of South America. Lengthwise, Washington State would be a thousand miles south from the Caribbean and California about 2,700 miles north of Cape Horn. The basin of the Amazon River has almost the same area as the entire United States and is rarely more than a few hundred feet above sea level; yet its western boundary is marked by one of the highest continuous mountain ranges in the world, the culminating peak, Aconcagua, being 23,081 feet above the sea. It is so high that for a distance of some 4,000 miles almost nowhere is there a pass lower than 10,000 feet. Such is the magnificent scale upon which South America has been built. Its climates are extremely varied. Snow-capped moun tains rise up out of equatorial jungles. Parts of the eastern slopes of the Andes are among the world's wettest regions, while segments of the narrow coastal strip, relatively only a few miles away on the western side of this range, are among the world's driest. The complexity and abundance of the plant life of this great continent match its geo graphical diversity. Many of these plants have been brought into our gardens. In their native haunts the majority are perennials. Some, like the Fuchsia of our plate, must be treated as such and are best grown from cut tings; others, such as the rest of those shown opposite, although still potential perennials, bloom soon enough from seed so that we can handle them as "annuals" during our short growing season in the north. As a result, they have long been popular garden subjects. FUCHSIA (Fuchsia, various species): The numerous species of this member of the Eve ning-Primrose Family are mostly shrubby. They are primarily South American in origin, with a few venturing naturally as far north as Mexico; three or four species also are found in New Zealand. The galaxy of forms en countered in the Andes is a source of never ending wonder to the plant collector. Some of these have delicate little bell-like, crimson flowers less than an inch long, and I have seen plants ten feet high covered with masses of salmony-red flowers up to four or five inches long. The one shown in our pic ture is a form of Fuchsia magellanica, the original of which is native from Peru south ward to the bleak hills of Tierra del Fuego; because of this, certain varieties of it, with some protection, are reasonably hardy out doors at least as far north as New York. Closely related forms occur northward through Central America. They will not stand frost. The majority of decorative Fuchsias which one sees are hybrids, probably between forms of F. magellanica and the more showy Mexican F. fulgens. The genus was named in honor of Leonhard Fuchs, an eminent botanist who lived from 1501 to 1566. PETUNIA (Petunia hybrida): As the name implies, our garden Petunias are hybrids, the parent species being the white P. axillaris and the purplish-violet P. violacea, both originally from Argentina. A "sorting out" of the basic colors which, in combination, gave the purplish tint to the wild P. violacea has produced the bluish and rosy-pink forms of our modern garden plants; the white forms hark back to the P. axillarisancestor. CUP-FLOWER (Nierembergia, several spe cies): Two species of this are frequently en countered in gardens, the dainty Brazilian N. gracilis and the more robust Chilean N. frutescens. The latter also is often grown as a somewhat shrubby, much branched, pot plant. The genus was named in honor of John Eusebius Nieremberg, first professor of natu ral history at the University of Madrid. The Nierembergias and Petunias belong to the same plant family as the Potato, Tomato, and Tobacco. Other South American mem bers of this same family which might have been included here are Salpiglossis, Schizan thus, Browallia, and the sometimes foot-long Angels Trumpet. GARDEN VERBENA (Verbena hortensis): Again, as is so often the case, the garden forms of a group are not referable to any one wild species. In this instance, one of the principal parents seems to have been a scarlet-flowered species wild in Argentina and southern Brazil, but now hybridized with a purplish-flowered species from southern Brazil and Paraguay and a whitish-flowered species widespread in parts of southern South America, the result being the present wide range of available colors in the modern Garden Verbena. SCARLET SAGE (Salvia splendens): In its native haunts in Brazil this common garden plant is a shrubby perennial with scarlet flowers. Quick-blooming forms with the flower color also present in adjacent parts of the plant are now available, varying from the original color to crimson, purple, or even white.