Embothrium J.R. Forst. & G. Forst.

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Credits

Jack Aldridge (2023)

Recommended citation
Aldridge, J. (2023), 'Embothrium' from the website Trees and Shrubs Online (treesandshrubsonline.org/articles/embothrium/). Accessed 2024-04-12.

Family

  • Proteaceae

Species in genus

Glossary

axillary
Situated in an axil.
calyx
(pl. calyces) Outer whorl of the perianth. Composed of several sepals.
endemic
(of a plant or an animal) Found in a native state only within a defined region or country.
included
(botanical) Contained within another part or organ.
monospecific
(of a genus) Including only one species (as e.g. Aextoxicon).
simple
(of a leaf) Unlobed or undivided.

Credits

Jack Aldridge (2023)

Recommended citation
Aldridge, J. (2023), 'Embothrium' from the website Trees and Shrubs Online (treesandshrubsonline.org/articles/embothrium/). Accessed 2024-04-12.

A genus comprising a single, highly variable species of evergreen (sometimes deciduous) tree with a single trunk or shrub suckering to form thickets, depending on edaphic and climatic conditions. For a full botanical description see E. coccineum.

Although historically not recognised as such, Embothrium is a monospecific genus endemic to South America, comprising a single, highly variable species: E. coccineum. The genus name is derived from the Greek en, meaning in and bothrion, a small pit; in reference to the anthers borne in the small cup-shaped pits of the calyx. Together with closely allied genera Oreocallis, Telopea and Alloxylon, Embothrium makes up the Embothriinae tribe within Proteaceae, which are united in having simple or branching racemes of flowers, individually arranged in pairs (Weston & Barker 2006). The tribe forms part of the wider Grevilleoideae subfamily, that includes the vast majority of the Proteaceae cultivated in our study area (Wrigley & Fagg 1991; Weston & Barker 2006).

Embothrium coccineum was first described in 1775 by J. R. & G. Forster, naturalists aboard the Endeavour on Captain Cook’s second Pacific voyage, who made their type collection in Tierra del Fuego, in the southernmost part of the species’ range (Bean 1981). In the years that followed the genus was expanded considerably; Spanish botanists Ruiz and Pavon published at least six new species from South America in their magnum opus, Flora Peruviana et Chilensis in 1798 (Schultes & Jaramillo-Arango 1998). Overall, more than fifty species have been described in Embothrium, with up to eight accepted at one time, when the genus’ distribution was considered to include eastern Australia, Tasmania, New Guinea and South America (Bean 1981). With one notable exception, a taxonomic revision of the South American Proteaceae by Dutch botanist Hans Otto Sleumer saw most reduced to synonyms and/or transferred to the closely related Lomatia R. Br. and Oreocallis R. Br. (not currently treated in this work) (Sleumer 1954). Meanwhile their Australasian relatives are now included in Telopea, or the more recently described Alloxylon (also not currently treated in this work) (Weston & Crisp 1991; Weston & Barker 2006).

Of the taxa originally described in Embothrium, a few are somewhat familiar e.g. Telopea truncata, others less so. The spectacular, pink-flowered Oreocallis grandiflora (Lam.) R.Br. from Peru (formerly Embothrium grandiflorum) has a very limited presence in cultivation in our area, but is worthy of a note. Plants raised from a collection by Tasmanian plantsman Ken Gillanders were distributed in a small way by Mark Fillan (pers. comm. 2023) over some years, from when the species was first listed in RHS Plant Finder in 2002 (as E. grandiflorum). True to their fickle reputation, a couple planted out at Tregrehan, Cornwall by Tom Hudson (pers. comm. 2023) eventually succumbed, but with another young plant growing on under glass there it retains a presence in cultivation in Britain.

Sleumer’s revision (1954) proposed Embothrium to be a genus of two species, E. coccineum and E. lanceolatum Ruiz. & Pav. Differing in having a greater number of axillary flowers grouped all along the stems, and longer, narrower foliage, the latter was long regarded to be a distinct species (Comber 1936). It was subsequently given varietal status (E. coccineum var. lanceolatum (Ruiz. & Pav) Kuntze) – a name still widely used in horticulture today – before Muñoz (1966) amalgamated the two, considering the morphological differences to be a result of natural variation within the species found throughout its geographical range. This is now a widely held view among botanists in Chile (Hoffmann et al. 1998; Hoffmann 2005) and is being accepted elsewhere (e.g. Royal Botanic Gardens Kew 2023). See further discussion under E. coccineum.