A small genus of evergreen shrubs with spiny holly-like leaves and very distinctive long conical, waxy flowers. For a full description see Desfontainia fulgens which is the only species cultivated in temperate gardens.
A genus comprising only three species, native to Central and South America (Weigend 2001). Formerly included in the Loganiaceae, Potaliaceae and more recently in its own family, Desfontainiaceae, Desfontainia is now placed in the Columelliaceae along with Columellia (APG 2003). The genus was named for the French botanist and ornithologist, René Louiche Desfontaines (1750–1833) by the Spanish botanists Hipólito Ruiz López and José Antonio Pavón Jiménez who with the French botanist Joseph Dombey, visited many South American countries, spending much of their time in Chile and Peru. Ruiz and Pavón were the godfathers of South American botany during the late 1700s – their botanical expedition between 1777 and 1788 discovered many species that are familiar to us as garden plants today and these were all published in their prestigious three volume work Flora Peruviana et Chilensis (Ruiz & Pavón 1798–1802). In its vegetative state Desfontainia could be confused with some holly (Ilex) species but these all have alternately arranged leaves while those of Desfontainia are opposite. The only other Chilean species in cultivation (albeit very rarely) with which it could be confused is Griselinia jodiniifolia but again like Ilex it has alternately arranged leaves.