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The genus Fremontodendron contains two species (up to five in some interpretations), natives of California and bordering parts of Arizona and Mexico. The most conspicuous feature of the flower is the bright yellow or orange-yellow calyx; there are no petals. The calyx is five-lobed almost to the base and at the base of each lobe is a nectar-secreting pit. The five stamens are united into a short column, divided at the top into five radiating arms. Ovary conical, with a slender style, developing into a bristly capsule, containing eight to fifteen black or dark-coloured seeds. The genus is named in honour of Captain, later General, J. C. Frémont, who discovered F. californica in 1846 during his explorations of the West. The genus has been monographed by M. A. Harvey in Madroño, Vol. 7 (1943), pp. 100-110. See also the note by Lord Talbot de Malahide and C. D. Brickell in Journ. R.H.S., Vol. 92 (Nov. 1967), pp. 485-488.

The closest ally of Fremontodendron is the extraordinary handflower tree of Mexico (Chiranthodendron pentadactjlon), in which the most conspicuous part of the flower is the staminal column and its five branches, which are all bright red and resemble a hand with outstretched fingers.

Regrettably, the cumbrous name Fremontodendron must take the place of the more familiar Fremontia. Torrey first used the generic name Fremontia (in 1843) for a west American plant of the Chenopodiaceae. He later found that this plant was referable to the genus Sarcobatus, which antedated his Fremontia by two years. Thus Fremontia Torrey (1843) became a synonym of Sarcobatus Nee (1841). Evidently Torrey believed he was free to use the generic name Fremontia for another and different genus, and in 1853 he applied it to the one here described. But this is contrary to the rules of botanical nomenclature, and in 1893 Coville renamed the genus, calling it Fremontodendron. The generic name Fremontia Torrey (1853) was subsequently proposed for conservation but this proposal was rejected and the name here used is therefore the correct one.

From the Supplement (Vol. V)

F. ‘California Glory’, described on page 234, is the best of the genus for general planting as it flowers over a long period. Grown against a wall, it may in time need cutting back. This should be done after flowering and preferably with protective clothing. ‘As soon as we began … the air was filled with the minute brown hairs which thickly clothe the stems. These flew into our eyes, noses and mouths and were rather more than uncomfortable. Our eyes, in particular, remained painful for several days and the itching caused on hands and arms was very long-lasting and unpleasant’ (Will Ingwersen, The Garden (Journ. R.H.S.), Vol. 110, p. 140 (1985)).

Species articles