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October Newsletter 

Strange Fruit October 2023

Below is a branch of a Champion Tree at VBG, Cryptocarya alba. It is the tallest in Britain, and is about the same stature here as those in its Chilean homeland. Its natural habitat is in a type of forest where all the trees are remarkably similar in leaf. There is a bluish tinge to the light beneath these trees which is quite enchanting. It is also the natural habitat of the giant Chilean Wine Palm Jubaea chilensis. Our tree at VBG supplied material for an interesting study of climate change, more details can be found here:



If you look very carefully high in the canopy you’ll see the fruits, called peumos, you can also find many fallen on the ground. Peumos is the name for the fruit of all these similar trees, which are edible, and share the same taste. The consideration is that the locale favours trees of diverse botanical identity to have evolved to have similar leaves, although the purpose for each to have the same tasting fruit is unresolved.

Ventnor Botanic Garden once had 169 cultivars of Rose, now it has just five as the original Rose Garden was removed by Simon Goodenough over thirty years ago. The reason for this dramatic drop is clear to any follower of VBG, we concentrate on the plants we can grow best – those that are half-hardy, and few roses fall into that bracket. Yet below is an as yet un-named rose from Agadir Ouguejgal, Morocco, in the sub-tropics, just 4° North of the Tropic of Cancer. It was collected as seed in 2007 by Dr Stephen Jury (retired) of Reading University and Dr Tim Upson, Director of Horticulture, Education and Communities with the RHS. This plant will have been on the edge of its natural range, and was seen as a naked specimen without leaves, but with hipped fruit. It’s tricky to find at VBG, but sits above the South African Terraces.


Not far from the rose below are two unusual Buddleja. Buddleja madagascariensis below is one of very few Madagascan plants that can be grown in the UK. Its natural habitat is at temperature-inverted altitudes far cooler than those of the sea level latitudes found within the southern hemisphere tropics. The distribution of Buddleja is unusual for temperate shrubs, it is worldwide, with distinct differences between the New World species and Old World (dioecy and monoecy respectively, for those interested.)


The second Buddleja is from even further south, Buddleja saligna comes from South Africa and Zimbabwe where it is a lowland dwelling shrub or small tree going by the name of False (or) Bastard Olive, referencing its inflorescence and narrow leaves. It is called iGqeba-elimhlope by the Zulu who used the plant in medicine (purgative and respiratory).



Coming to the end of its short flowering season are some hybrid Hibiscus, on the experimental bank below the café. These flowers are ridiculously huge, see the hand for scale. Growth comes annually from a basal stump, but these plants are notoriously short lived in cultivation and usually sold as certain-to-die oddities from unscrupulous florists.

Arctotheca calendula, were it hardier, would be one of the most widely used plants in landscaping, adorning supermarket carparks and industrial estates far and wide, as it is an exceptional groundcover plant. Fortunately it remains beyond the fevered imaginings of landscape architects as a tickle of cold gives it a hard time. While the search for the invincible cheap groundcover goes on for the unimaginative, our plant covers dry path edges and walls, just as it did when donated as a dug up lump from Stephen Mules’ Lower Kenneggy Nursery in Cornwall in 2016.



Hedychium flavescens outside the Tropical House stands out as a blousy, bold clump of late flowering Ginger Lilies.

Nearby the sublime Callistemon pityoides begins flowering. This plant arrived courtesy of the late great Graham Hutchins.

Chris Kidd, OCTOBER 2023