Fuchsia (few-sha) and Other Evening Primroses

You don’t have to be a horticultural whiz to grow fuchsias.
The soil need not be perfect – as long as drainage is decent – and constant fertilization is a requirement only for nonstop flowering from summer to fall.
As in the case of most ornamental plants, location is the most important factor in the success of fuchsias.
The fuchsia (named after Fuchs, a German botantist, but pronounced few- sha) belongs to that group of plants that need good light but cannot tolerate very much heat. Near the coast, fuchsias can be grown in practically full, all-day sun, especially as you go south toward San Diego.
In our hot valleys, they abide little direct sun, but perform remarkably well when given plenty of ambient light, such as that provided up against an unobstructed, unshaded north side of a fence or wall.
Fuchsias are sometimes called “lady’s eardrops” because their flowers resemble earrings with pendants hanging from them. This is particularly true of the popular hybrid fuchsias (Fuchsia hybrida), which are usually multicolored, having flowers that distribute white, pink, red and purple colors among their various parts. Although their parents come from Mexico and South America, nearly all of these hybrids were developed in Southern California.
There are two types of hybrid fuchsias: trailing and shrub. Trailing fuchsias are shown off in hanging baskets, while shrub fuchsias are used in landscaping and for espalier (trellises).
Fuchsia triphylla “Gartenmeister Bonstedt” has bronze leaves and orange flowers. It has a reputation for nonstop blooming and is generally available at nurseries around town.
Fuchsias belong to a family of plants (Onagraceae) commonly known as evening primroses. This name was given because of certain species (Oenothera spp.) within the family that open their flowers in the afternoon, and keep them open at night to accommodate the moths that pollinate them.
The evening primrose holds an honored place in the biological world. In 1901, the Dutch scientist Hugo de Vries observed that, occasionally, an Oenothera seedling possessed a characteristic that was not observed in either of the parental lines from which it was descended. He called this new characteristic a mutation, and thus evening primroses were the first documented mutants on Earth.
A plant of increasing popularity is Oenothera Berlandieri, the Mexican primrose. It is blooming right now and has been for more than two months. It is a rhizomatous, sun-loving ground cover that appears as a sheet of pink flowers during the long Los Angeles summer. During the winter, it dies back to almost nothing, to where you’re convinced you’ll never see it again. Then suddenly, with the onset of warm weather, it starts growing and flowering once more. Although its spreading growth is rapid, its roots are not deep, and it makes a fine companion plant to floribunda white roses such as iceberg.
Oenothera missourensis is a spectacular, low-growing, clear yellow evening primrose that, unfortunately, is hardly seen in nurseries. Oenothera Hookeri, on the other hand, has butter yellow flowers on the ends of long stems; it is native to our area and may pop up in your garden some day. You may take it for a weed, especially since it is a biennial; you will have to wait until its second year to see any flowers. Also, it reseeds prolifically and outgrows more delicate imported garden plants.
A related species from the Southwest – whose rosette seedlings, growth habit and cultural conditions resemble those of Oenotherha Hookeri – is Gaura Lindheimeri. Gaura (rhymes with Laura) is a perennial that produces white flowers tinged with pink and self-sows readily in any sandy or gravelly soil that is occasionally watered.
Two other California native evening primroses are worthy of mention. Clarkia, with its several indigenous species, is the most noteworthy California genus of wildflowers in the opinion of many. Clarkias may be seen each spring, in their pink and violet hues, on the Theodore Payne Foundation’s wildflower hill in Sun Valley. Clarkia seeds also may be purchased there for fall planting.
Another self-sowing native, the California fuchsia (Zauschneria californica), is a low-growing perennial with reddish-orange flowers and gray, pubescent leaves. This last species is also known as hummingbird’s trumpet,
because of the attraction it has for those tiny, fluttering avian creatures.
Tip: To prevent fruit from bruising when it falls from your trees, lay a soft, thick mulch of straw under the canopy. The straw also will conserve water, discourage weeds and nourish the soil as it decomposes. The straw is available at the Red Barn in Tarzana. My thanks to David Silber, whose unblemished golden Dorsett apples fall on such a mulch, for this tip.

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