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A deciduous large shrub or small tree of variable habit. In its wild state typically up to 5–6 m tall but in cultivation capable of achieving 14 m height and 0.3 m dbh, though more commonly multi-stemmed. The growth is somewhat upright especially in young plants, with foliage borne on shoots clustered toward the end of each internode. Shoots, petioles and leaves hairy when young. Leaves pinnate, with one or two pairs of more or less sessile, ovate-oval leaflets and a stalked terminal leaflet, 3–5 cm long, regularly toothed, dark glossy green above, pale green beneath, turning orange-red in autumn. Flowers borne singly or in pairs terminally and from terminal leaf axils, (4–)5–6 cm across, with densely packed stamens. Fruiting capsule woody, 1–2 cm long (Bausch 1938; Cullen et al. 2011).
USDA Hardiness Zone 8-10
RHS Hardiness Rating H5
Conservation status Data deficient (DD)
Ñirre, as the Chileans call it, was first described in 1838 as a new species of southern beech and named Fagus glutinosa, after having been discovered in its deciduous state and without flowers (or presumably fruit). Incidentally, some usually reliable reference books continue to perpetuate a myth that Eucryphia glutinosa is evergreen in the wild – this is not true!
A little later, in c. 1845, it was discovered again by Claude (Claudio) Gay on the banks of the Biobío River, and from this discovery the proper identity of Ñirre became apparent and it was reclassified as Eucryphia. This time lapse may be partly explained by the fact that E. glutinosa is quite rare in the wild. Unlike the other Chilean species, E. cordifolia, it neither forms especially large trees nor occurs as a common constituent of the forests it inhabits. Rather, it seems to be an occasional component of riparian woods, with a relatively restricted distribution in the La Araucanía, Biobío, and Maule regions of central southern Chile between 200 and 1400 m asl (though it can become locally abundant as a small shrub at high altitudes) (Gardner et al. 2006). In a month-long expedition with the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in 2013, in which a great deal of time was spent in these three regions, we only chanced upon it once, in the valley of San Fabián de Alico growing by the river in the company of Drimys winteri, Dasyphyllum diacanthoides, Laurelia sempervirens and Lomatia dentata.
At the time this valley was in imminent threat of being flooded by a new dam for hydro-electric power generation, a fate that has already befallen many similar valleys in these regions, leading to the catastrophic destruction of vast swathes of habitat and populations of many rare and threatened species. Even San Fabián’s designation as a UNESCO biosphere reserve is not enough to stop the ecocide. All these circumstances conspire to make it very difficult to accurately record the original extent, and consequently the extent of decline, in Ñirre populations, causing the current IUCN category for the species to be designated ‘data deficient’.
In cultivation, it is a brighter picture. Richard Pearce introduced the species to British horticulture via the Veitch nurseries in 1859. Although it would eventually become well established in cultivation, it initially proved difficult to propagate, difficult to transplant and difficult to please generally, being very sensitive until well established and prone to sudden demise (Bean 1981). When happy, E. glutinosa may be expected to form a wide-spreading large shrub or small tree between 5 and 10 m in height, which once established will reliably produce masses of white flowers during late summer before its foliage turns orange-red in autumn.
Exceptional examples include a 14 m tree at Rostrevor House, County Down, Northern Ireland, and 12 m trees at Mount Usher, County Wicklow, and at Hergest Croft, Herefordshire. Sizeable examples in cold gardens include a pair of trees of c. 10 m at Howick Hall, Northumberland, one of c. 9 m at Keir House near Dunblane, Scotland, and another of c. 8 m at Crathes Castle, Aberdeenshire (The Tree Register 2018).
There are many dozens of other examples that could be cited from all over the UK and Ireland, but elsewhere definitive records appear to be thin on the ground. Seed was sent from Chile to the USA in 1920 (USDA 1923) but whether this consignment resulted in establishment in collections is not known. Jacobson (Jacobson 1996) suggests that several Eucryphias all became established in the north American horticultural trade shortly after an introduction (presumably from European gardens) in 1937. Today it is cultivated in appropriate climatic zones in North America, including in Washington State at the Washington Park Arboretum (University of Washington Botanic Gardens 2018), and at Darts Hill Garden Park in Vancouver, Canada (Darts Hill Garden Park 2017).
Spencer (Spencer 2002) suggests, not unsurprisingly, that E. glutinosa, E. cordifolia and their hybrid are less common in cultivation in south east Australia than their indigenous cousins, especially the Tasmanian species, which are themselves of outstanding horticultural merit, though the Tasmanian Arboretum’s collection includes E. glutinosa (The Tasmanian Arboretum 2018). The picture is very similar in New Zealand, with the Chilean species tending to be overshadowed by the Australians, although again E. glutinosa does occur in gardens, for example in Dunedin Botanic Garden.
In Europe, E. glutinosa is widely cultivated but there is scant information available about notable individuals. It is reported, for example, in the collections of the Arboretum Volčji Potok in Slovenia, Arboretum Grenzenlust in Germany, the arboretum in Hørsholm, Denmark, the Conservatoire Botanique National de Brest, France, the Stavanger Botanic Garden, Norway and at Arboretum Wespelaar, Belgium. It is commercially available from numerous sources in western Europe.
A name covering double or semi-double flowered forms that arise naturally among plants raised from seed. There are several outstanding examples in the Eucryphia walk at Castlewellan, County Down, and some of these are said to resist adverse weather conditions better than the single-flowered type, especially ‘Daisy Hill’, a clone selected by the Daisy Hill nursery in Newry, County Down, in the 1920s (S. O’Brien pers. comm. 2018).