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Ercilla volubilis

Written by John James, posted on Thursday, April 4, 2019

Ercilla volubilis reaching heights of over 6m on the medieval wall.At the moment one of our more unusual climbing plants is flowering well in the Pococke Garden. Growing on one of the bastions of the medieval town wall we have a fine specimen of Ercilla volubilis (it has no common name), a self-clinging, evergreen climber from Chile.

Profusion of flowers, covering the entire plantOnce named Bridgesia spicata after Thomas Bridges, an avid plant collector who introduced the plant from Chile in 1840, under the rules of botanical nomenclature, the name Ercilla volubilis takes precedent as it is an older, valid name for the plant. Ercilla commemorates Alonso de Ercilla the author of an epic poem on a campaign waged by the Spanish forces in Chile in the mid 1500’s. Volubilis means winding or twisting.

The plant’s small pinkish, bottle brush like flowers appear in profusion in March and April, and despite most descriptions saying the plant has a good scent we have never noticed any obvious scent coming from the plant, however it does seem to attract bees in good numbers.

Although normally hardy in the UK, the plant may suffer in bad winters, but in the shelter of the Pococke Garden it thrives and is reaching great heights on the wall.

The stems cling to the wall with tiny adhesive discs but, as reported by WJ Bean in his 1930’s book “Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles”, “Its natural means of attachment appear to be scarcely efficient enough to enable the plant to bear its own weight on a vertical surface” a view borne out by the way the plant falls away from the town wall.