Tim EntwisleThe green-backed firecrown hummingbird’s favourite flower

In the coastal mountains of Chile the Three-coloured Indian Cress is pollinated by the Green-backed Firecrown Hummingbird. Continuing my theme from the last post, this may one of those cases where the scientific names are shorter and perhaps easier to remember: Tropaeolum tricolor is pollinated by Sephanoides sephaniodes. 

Tropaeoleum tricolor (and Lynda)

A few weeks ago there was a clutch of Tropaeolum species on display in the Davies Alpine House at Kew Gardens, including this one with three-coloured flowers. As pretty and delicate as they all were, this was the show stopper. I can see why the hummingbird in question, and Lynda, likes it. Tropaeolum is in its own family, but within the plant order that also includes Brassica and Arabidopsis. Hence the common name ending in cress. You may also be familiar with Tropaeolum majus, the common garden Nasturtium, sometimes called simply Indian Cress.

In the wilds of Chile, species of Tropaeolum climb through nearby vegetation, dying back to a red underground tuber. Then in late winter the fine twining stems emerge. In case you can’t see them clearly in my pictures, the leaves in this species have about five or six lobes, and each of the flowers has a long, pointed spur (typical of the genus).

Tropaeoleum brachyceras x tricolor

On our Kew website, Richard Wilford, our current Head of Hardy Displays at Kew Gardens, describes Tropaeolum tricolor as the longest flowering and one of the most vigorous of the Indian cresses. He also tells you how to grow it in London.

Tropaeoleum brachyceras x tricolor

We display the Indian cresses in the Temperate House and when they are at their peak – as they were two weeks ago – in the Davies Alpine House. Included in the mix were some pretty hybrids between Tropaeolum brachyceras and Tropaeolum tricolor. Here are two different coloured flower variants from that cross, although the first looks very like the Three-coloured you-know-what so our Green-backed you-know-what might still be happy.

From Talking Plants


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Tim Entwisle

About Tim Entwisle

Dr Tim Entwisle is a scientist and scientific communicator with a broad interest in plants, science and gardens, and Director & Chief Executive of Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. Previously he was Director of Conservation, Living Collections & Estates at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and prior to that, Director of Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens for eight years. Read Tim's full blog at Talking Plants

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