An evergreen shrub of heath-like appearance, erect in habit when young, ultimately spreading and reaching 6 to 8 ft in height and as much in diameter; it is, however, of variable habit in the wild, becoming lower or even ground-hugging at high altitudes or in dry or exposed situations. Branches downy, long, and tapered, densely furnished with short, slender twigs, from 1⁄2 to 2 in. long. These twigs are themselves completely covered with tiny, pointed, three-angled leaves, 1⁄12 in. long, and, in June, are each terminated by a solitary pure white flower. Corolla 5⁄8 to 3⁄4 in. long, tubular, but narrowing towards the base, with the rounded shallow lobes at the apex reflexed; calyx bell-shaped, 1⁄12 in. long. Capsules 1⁄4 in. long splitting downwards into two halves from the top to the calyx persisting at the base.
Native of the Andes of Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile; introduced in 1838. This beautiful shrub is unfortunately rather tender, and at Kew, although it occasionally survives the winter, has never been a success fully in the open. In milder and more upland localities it is a shrub of great beauty, flowering freely and transforming each branch into a slender raceme of blossom. It likes a light soil, and can be increased easily by late summer cuttings in gentle heat.
f. violacea Hort. F. violacea Hort. – Flowers in some shade of bluish mauve, but not differing from the white-flowered form in any other respect.
The first mention of the name F. violacea is in The Floricultural Cabinet for 1854, p. 211, where there occurs the following note: ‘As hardy as the pretty, hardy F. imbricata, which has tube-shaped heath-like white flowers, very neat and pretty. The new plant is like the old one excepting the flowers being of a violet colour; very handsome.’
This variant seems to have been lost to cultivation until reintroduced by H. F. Comber during his Andean expedition 1925-7, when he sent seeds under field number C.247, collected in the Valle Escondido near Zapala, in a dry region of the Argentine Andes. Comber’s introduction was shown by Lord Swaythling in 1932, when it received a First Class Certificate. From the form of F. imbricata previously cultivated this is very distinct in habit and leaf as well as in flower-colour. It may at once be distinguished by its much more spreading habit, due to the branches springing at almost right angles from older ones. Plants 2 or 3 ft high will be quite as wide as they are tall. In the commonly cultivated form of F. imbricata, on the other hand, the branches are attached at an angle of 45° or less, and the plant is erect and slender. The leaves of Comber’s plant also are only half the length of those of the other and are more closely appressed. In his field note, Comber described the colour of the flowers as hare-bell blue but as seen on cultivated plants they are pale mauve. Clarence Elliott, who found and introduced a tall-growing form of f. violacea from Bulnes in S. Chile, described the flowers as a good blue-lilac. Both at Kew and in other gardens, Comber’s introduction has proved hardier and freer-growing than the old F. imbricata. The garden clone ‘Prostrata’ probably derives from it.
Although the name f. violacea is maintained here, it really has no botanical significance. In wild populations the colour of the flowers varies from white to lavender-blue and neither colour is more typical than the other. The species is also variable in its foliage, but the type of foliage shown by Comber’s plants appears to be more characteristic of the species than the longer more spreading leaves of the original introduction of F. imbricata and is certainly not confined to plants with coloured flowers. Plants from Atacama province, in the very dry northern part of Chile, have waxy leaves smelling of beeswax and the dried specimens in the Kew Herbarium are still strongly redolent of honey.