Tongue-tingling fuchsia evokes runaway cowboys

Sad that about the only thing I could remember about Bolivia was that it's where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had their final shootout in the 1969 movie staring Paul Newman and Robert Redford. But that was yesterday.

Today I know there is a Fuchsia growing there, Fuchsia boliviana. It also grows in Peru and Argentina, as well as about 20 or so places around the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne. Ours seem to be a cultivar, 'Alba', differing from the species in having a white rather than red flower tube.

Most of the 100 or so species of fuschia come from central and southern American forests, with just a few scattered across Pacific islands such as New Zealand. While digging around for information on this particular species I rediscovered in my own blog that Tamarillo calls Bolivia home, as well as the lesser known Achacha and Ocha. All of which you can eat.

As you can Fuchsia boliviana, or at least its purple fruits which I gather have been cultivated and sold in markets in South America since the time of the Incas. You can see the fruits swelling at the back of this clump of flowers in our Gardens.

Apparently the fruits taste like a kiwifruit or grape, but not as sweet. A book published in 1961 on the ethnobotany of Peru describes them as having a "sweetish taste" and being "mildly narcotic". Just add sugar perhaps: fuchsia fruits are used occasionally to make jam, although I haven't tried it (making or tasting).

The author, Margaret Towle, says the flowers were also popular with the Incas and may be the source of images that appear in their artwork and ceremonies. Which is not surprising. The flowers are elegant and arresting.

In Melbourne, Fuchsia boliviana is an attractive shrub growing up to a couple of metres tall, doing best with a bit of protection from full sun (in South America it grows at high altitudes, under the forest canopy).

It was back in November when I photographed these flowers, from the garden alongside the nursery between E and F Gate. Although it's said to flower almost all year our Melbourne summer knocked it around a bit and it doesn't look like it will flower again any time soon.

I was hoping I might be able to return about now to find if not more blooms then flowers converted into the purple fruits prized by the Incas. No such luck. Although I walk past one of the plants almost daily, I didn't notice any purple fruits.

I presume the fruits did ripen and were eaten by some lucky local wildlife. The young fruits were certainly swelling back in November. I doubt pollination was a problem. In its home territory various bees and birds pollinate the flowers and although the flower has a very long, narrow tube all the important bits are hanging out the end.

The best I can do is reproduce here a photo from Irene's Website (above). In comparing the Fuchsia boliviana fruit in look and taste to the overripe kiwifruit, 'Irene' says you get a similar tingling of the tongue. If I want that, I can chew the bark of Dinosperma erythrococcum, an Australian native called Tingletongue. But then that species doesn't have any of the romantic associations of a doomed Bolivian shootout.


New Zealand Fuchsia excorticata also has edible fruits, so much so that Māori have given them a separate name (the tree is kōtukutuku; the berry kōnini). They're mild-flavoured and a bit sweet, also quite small. F. procumbens has larger fruit but they're not juicy.
Tim Entwisle said…
Thanks Phil. This chimes with the various comments about the fruit of Fuchsia boliviana being only a little sweet. Tim
Tim Havenith said…
Hi Tim, I've been reading James Wong's Homegrown Revolution. He includes a variety of Fuchsia varieties with a recipe idea of Sticky fuchsia berry and cream cheese empanadas! I'll definitely be on the look out for fuchsia berries this year! Thanks for including the photographs of inside the fruit, it's really interesting to see what they look like.
Tim Entwisle said…
Thanks Tim. Still hoping to see the real thing (fruit) soon - I had to borrow this photo from a fellow blogger.
garry Z said…
That is interesting. It is such a shame that all these amazing fruits and other wild edibles don't get as much attention as they deserve.

I wonder how mild this narcotic effect spoken of is and if you should not eat so many.

Interested to try some and see how they taste and see if they would grow in Florida
Tim Entwisle said…
Might be too humid in Florida but always worth a try. The do well here in Melbourne, tolerating a bit of neglect and fairly dry conditions. Definitely take care if eating...
garry Z said…
I found this

probably not so well outdoors but in a sun room indoors
Tim Entwisle said…
Excellent. Worth a try, particularly this species (the one with fully red flowers is perhaps even prettier).