Hummingbirds and butterflies flock to the vibrant Alstroemeria species blooming in the Chilean Garden this summer. The genus Alstroemeria contains about 50 species native to South America, primarily in Brazil, Peru, Chile, and Argentina. The genus was named for the Swedish naturalist Clas Alströmer, a student and close friend of Carl Linnaeus, after he discovered the plant, Alstroemeria pelegrina.
Many are most familiar with this South American perennial as a popular and long-lasting cut flower, holding for up to 3 weeks in a vase. The elegant foliage of the plant can also be used in arrangements, and will hold for 1-2 weeks in a vase. There is an abundance of hybrids and cultivars of Alstroemeria that are popular commercially and available in a wide range of flower colors, including orange, yellow, red, pink, purple, and white.
Alstroemerias grow from fleshy rhizome-like roots, forming large clumps that happily spread. The erect stems grow upright, reaching 1-3 feet in height depending on the cultivar with slender, strap-like leaves of 3-5 inches in length. The petioles twist at the stem, inverting the leaves so that the back is oriented upwards. After the plant blooms, the seed pods swell and dehisce explosively. Here at the San Francisco Botanical Garden garden, we feature two species of Alstroemeria, along with naturally occurring hybrids of the two.
Alstroemeria aurea blooms first this year, with terminal clusters of yellow to orange lily-like flowers with dark freckles and stripes. Its slender, pale green stems stand up to 2-3 feet tall in bushy clumps. Alstroemeria aurea is native to Chile and was one of the first species to be taken out of Chile for use in cultivation and breeding.
Also blooming in the garden this summer is Alstroemeria pulchella, sometimes referred to as the parrot lily for is the coloration and feathery appearance of the petals. This alstroemeria is native to Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. Alstroemeria pulchella has clusters of red trumpet-shaped flowers with greenish-white tips and dark stippling throughout. Its thin, dark grey stems contrast beautifully with the soft green twisted leaves.
Look for these species and various hybrids through the Chilean Garden this summer. These midsummer bloomers are not to be missed!
IN BLOOM CONTRIBUTORS: Text and profile by Sarah Callan. Photos by Joanne Taylor and Mona Bourell.