Graptophyllum excelsum

native fuchsia


Graptophyllum excelsum

(F.Muell.) Druce 1916

pronounced: grap-toh-FILL-um ek-KEL-suh

(Acanthaceae — the black-eyed Susan family)


common names: native fuchsia, scarlet fuchsia

native 4Graptophyllum is derived from the Greek γραπτος (graptos), marked as with letters, and φυλλον (phyllon), a leaf; excelsum is from the Latin excelsus, elevated, high.

This is a Queensland native, fairly rare in the wild, but it does occur on Magnetic Island. Larry Corbett, the Botanic Collection gardener at Anderson Gardens, Townsville, has found it on the north-eastern side of Nelly Bay, on fairly inaccessible scattered rocky outcrops in the hills behind Mandalay Avenue, from about the end of Jean Street almost to the Arcadia road. The photographs were taken of a plant he has grown in Anderson Gardens. This native fuchsia occurs patchily in north-east Queensland, and in another pocket near Proserpine. It is mostly seen in semi-evergreen vine thickets, usually on soils derived from limestone. Near Chilligoe it has also been found in grassy woodland. It usually flowers and fruits as a small shrub up to about 3 m tall and 1 m wide. Young branches have lines of glandular hairs along each stem angle. Older branches are glabrous, often having short, crowded axillary branchlets along the end of the main axes. There are usually axillary spines present, up to about a centimetre long. The shrub is often suckering, creating a bushy effect by growing new plants from the base.

The leaves, borne in opposite pairs of approximately equal size, are leathery, shiny green above, duller green below, and dotted with glands. They are roughly obovate or spathulate, between 2.5 and 4 cm in length and 1 cm or a little more in width, glabrous. Their margins are either entire, or with two tiny teeth on either side towards the apex, which can be acute or obtuse with a short mucro.

The cherry red, asymmetrical tubular flowers, subtended by persistent linear sepals 5 – 6 mm long, are about 3 cm long, and borne either singly or in pairs on short pedicels in the leaf axils. The corolla is 2-lipped, the upper lip more-or-less straight, the lower lip 2-lobed and reflexed. There are 2 stamens, their anthers slightly exserted, the anther locules attached side by side, the filaments hairy towards the base. The ovary is green, and the style glabrous. The ovules are erect, superposed, 2 per locule. The style ends in 2 stigmas, one bigger than the other. The full flowering period usually lasts for several weeks in late spring, but a few flowers are produced at other times.

The fruit is a club-shaped, dry and woody capsule 2 – 3 cm long, containing usually 2, but up to 4 seeds about 3 – 5 mm in diameter. Style remnants persist at the apex.

The plant can do well under cultivation, in a range of climates ranging from tropical to cool temperate, tolerating light frosts. It flowers best in temperate climates when grown in full sun, or, in hotter climates, in light shade. It is very spectacular when in full flower. Well-drained soil is essential. The plant responds well to pruning, and it is easy to establish a hedge or wind-break as suckers emerge. Propagation is easy from cuttings, or by transplanting suckers. Fresh seed also germinates well. The plant can also be grown in pots and containers.

Nectar-feeding birds find the flowers irresistible.


Photographs taken at Anderson Gardens, Townsville, 2015
Page last updated 7th January 2019