Agapetes planet fruit

The fruits of this tropical heath are almost astronomical. Not in size - the berry is only centimetre or two in diameter - but in its markings which to me look a little lunar or Mars-like.

But then I'm a botanist, with no expertise in planetary bodies. What I do know is that this is (for now) a species of Agapetes called Agapetes hosseana. It's a close relative of the blueberry (Vacciniumbut in nature you find this one clambering around tree branches, alongside rhododendrons and orchids such as Vanilla, in the mountain forests of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.

We have it in fruit, and flower, in our Melbourne Gardens nursery. You may recall a few other exotic heaths featured in Talking Plants over the last few years, including DimorphantheraDisterigma and some odd Vaccinium. Many of these, including this Agapetes, were sourced from  near Gosford, in NSW, where the talented collector and grower of exotic plants, Bob Cherry, used to run his plant nursery, Paradise Plants. 

The Sacred Succulents site provides the common names Saphaolom and Thai Huckleberry for this species and say it is well known for its large woody lignotubers which are used medicinally in northern Thailand for recovery from fevers.

In the 2012 revision of Agapetes in Thailand, Santi Watthana, from Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden in Thailand, accepts about 80 species, all found in the region including Himalaya, southern China and south-eastern mainland Asia.

Agapetos is Greek for beloved but it's namesake plant genus may not last in its current form. All the available information points to it being a rather 'unnatural' grouping of species that in time will be either split further or combined with other genera such as Vaccinium. For now, we'll use this name which our on-line HortFlora diagnoses by 'characteristic V-shaped markings' on the flowers. Vaccinium proper (for now) also tends to have smaller flowers I think.

Already the taxonomic dissection of these genera has begun. Australia used to have one not too dissimilar looking species of AgapetesAgapetes meiniana, described by Ferdinand Mueller from material sent to him collected on Mount Bellenden-Ker in far north Queensland. That species is now classified in the genus Paphia, along with 19 other species.

Our species is still considered a Agapetes and you can see it has big bold flowers. They don't have the distinctive angular ridges or dark coloured V-shaped markings typical of the genus so perhaps they'll eventually move elsewhere when we understand more about their genetic affinities and relationships. 

Of the 12 species of Agapetes in Thailand, Agapetes hosseana is distinguished mostly by its large, tubular, 5-ridged, red or orange flowers, although there are occasional green-flowered populations, and the young branches almost always bearing long hairs.

There are definitely blackish hairs on the branches of this plant. They are clearly visible in the picture at the top of this post, and in the next they just give a shagginess to the bark.

Those berries are apparently sweet and edible. But who could eat something so celestial. Particularly not from this single plant holding out so strongly away from its aerial habitat in the mountains of central Asia.


Twinkle said…
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wrobo said…
I had an Agapetes in our recent Show but it was judged, incorrectly, in the wrong Class. Such is life.
John Beetham said…
Hey Tim...I've just seen Stephen Ryan's Instagram post of this species...fascinating genus for my overseas travels in, would you believe 1992!, I came across specimens of Agapetes odontocera & A.stenantha growing in the Peat House at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh...I've been intrigued by them ever since...Cheers Beeth
Talking Plants said…
Should have known he'd be into these. Lovely chunky plant!