Before you hurry off to the lifts on your journey to the summit of Cloud Forest’s mountain, take a moment to find a rather special plant. This unassuming shrub might not seem like much but this is the very first time it is blooming at Gardens by the Bay. The plant in question is the golden fuchsia (Deppea splendens).
Contrary to its common name, the golden fuchsia is in no way related to the true Fuchsia species (Onagraceae family). In fact, it is actually a distant cousin of coffee and Ixora, both of which are members of the Rubiaceae family. At about a metre or so in height, you might need to crouch down to view its flowers. The tubular flowers hang beneath the foliage, sporting yellow-orange petals beneath wine-red calyces (the outermost whorl of floral organs) and do indeed resemble the pendulous flowers of the Fuchsia species and cultivars growing all over the Cloud Forest mountain.
This species was found by Dennis Breedlove, then Curator of Botany for the California Academy of Sciences during one of his trips to Chiapas in southern Mexico in the early 1970s. He described seeing these spectacular plants with vivid magenta and orange flowers growing in a steep canyon in the cool, montane rainforest. A decade later, another expedition was organised to collect seeds of the species and they were distributed among botanical gardens and nurseries.
When Bleedlove revisited the site again in 1986, he made a tragic discovery. On the site where forests of oak, pine, and magnolia once stood were now open pastures. The only known location of the golden fuchsia had been completely cleared for farming. To add insult to injury, the plant was only formally named a year after being declared extinct in the wild.
If not for the initial collection of seeds and the institutions and horticulturists who have propagated the plants from those seeds for the last fifty years, the golden fuchsia would have been lost forever due to ‘development!’ Come visit these rare plants, both lost and saved by human intervention, while they’re still in bloom at Cloud Forest!
Written by: Hazri Boey, Senior Horticulturist (Gardens Operations)
Hazri not only surrounds himself with plants at work; he has an abundant collection at home too! Having nurtured a keen interest in nature since young, he might have gone on to become a zookeeper caring for owls or sloths had it not been for his plant identification talent!