A neotropical blueberry

Macleania 3
Macleania species aff. smithiana (H.B.G. 89922)

No bonus points for guessing the pollinator of this plant.  It has hot pink tubular flowers of heavy, waxy substance.  It has to be pollinated by birds, right?  If I tell you that it’s from South America, then it’s obviously hummingbird-pollinated.

Macleania–a genus in the Ericaceae, the blueberry/rhododendron/heather family–is a plant geek’s delight.   Macleania species are found in central and South America, generally in high altitude cloud forest. Many are epiphytes that produce lignotubers, swollen roots or stem bases that store moisture and nutrients.  Their tubular flowers come in shades of bright orange, red, and pink, highlighted with green and yellow, and their berries are often sweet and edible.

The label of the plant illustrated above, Macleania sp. aff. smithiana, indicates that it may or may not be the species M. smithiana.  It generally fits the description of M. smithiana, except that its flowers are pink/yellow instead of orange-red/green.  Since plant descriptions are generally based on a limited range of specimens, it may turn out to be a color variant of M. smithiana.  Alternatively, it might be a closely related species.  The “aff.” (affinis) in the label reflects that uncertainty.  It came with an accession number from the Huntington Botanical Garden (HBG 89922), so there’s a chance I may be able to find out more someday.

I purchased this rooted cutting in autumn, 2016, because it was advertised as originating from lowland forest near Esmereldas, Ecuador.  Most Macleania species in cultivation are from higher elevation and are therefore less likely to tolerate our long hot summers.  So far, the plant has performed well, producing clean new growth and blooming for the first time this month.  I am growing it in a mix of permatill and long-fiber sphagnum moss, outside under shade-cloth in summer and in a cool corner of the greenhouse in winter.

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4 thoughts on “A neotropical blueberry

    1. A little bit—they’re in the same family, after all—but the vireyas I have seen all have more open flowers, not that different from temperate rhododendrons. This seems more specialized.

      edited to add: What these flowers remind me of most is Juanulloa mexicana, which is in a totally different family (Solanaceae) but which is also hummingbird pollinated.

      Liked by 1 person

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