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Plant of the Month: September 2006

Chilean Wineberry
Aristotelia chilensis (Mol.) Stuntz

= Aristotelia Macqui L'Hér.

ELÆOCARPACEÆ; ELÆOCARPUS Family

Compared, say, to blackberries or blueberries, wineberries are obscure to most of us. Of wineberries, the Japanese Wineberry (Rubus phœnicolasius Maxim.) is relatively well known in North America; it is an attractive raspberry relative bearing edible deep red berries. The New Zealand Wineberry is little known; it is Aristotelia serrata. Least known of all is Chilean Wineberry --so I here write about it.
    Aristotelia is a genus of five Southern Hemisphere shrub and tree species: 2 in New Zealand; 2 in Australia; 1 in Chile and Argentina. Its geographic distribution recalls that of the southern beeches (Nothofagus). The generic name derives from the famous Aristotle --ancient Greek naturalist and philosopher (384 - 322 B.C.). A genus of moths is also known as Aristotelia. It is rare and can be confusing when a plant genus and an animal kingdom genus bear the same name. The plant name dates from 1784; the insect name dates from 1825.
    Here are the five species of Aristotelia.

    Aristotelia australasica F. Muell.
    From NSW, Australia.
    Mountain Wineberry.

    Aristotelia chilensis (Mol.) Stuntz
    From Chile and Argentina.
    Chilean Wineberry.

    Aristotelia fruticosa Hook. fil.
    From New Zealand.
    Shrubby or Mountain Wineberry.

    Aristotelia peduncularis (Labill.) Hook. fil.
    From Tasmania.
    Heart Berry.

    Aristotelia serrata (Forst. & Forst. fil.) W. Oliver
    = A. racemosa (A. Cunnn.) Hook. fil.
    From New Zealand.
    New Zealand Wineberry; Mako Mako.

    Chilean Wineberry has been cultivated in England since the 1700s. It was cultivated sparingly in the United States by the early 1900s. It was first tested in Seattle in 1952. Around 1990 I first grew aware of it. One was in the garden of Dr. Art & Mareen Kruckeberg (now Kruckeberg Botanic Garden), north of Seattle. Art mentioned that it kept freezing to the ground, and plucked off a shoot for me to try growing in my warmer Seattle garden. My specimen grew like a rank weed, and flowered. I discerned that it was a female. But either it did not yield fruit --lacking a male plant-- or its fruit did not impress me (I do not recall). So I donated it to the nearby Washington Park Arboretum in March 1994. It lived there until winter killed in 1995-96. But the arboretum currently has three specimens raised from seeds sent from Chile in 1994.
    The appearance of these plants has never excited me. They make enormous floppy shrubs, are gaunt and leggy, with dull foliage and inconspicuous flowers. Most years it seems that little or no fruit is set. Extra cold winters will kill the shoots partly. There is a specimen fruiting in Seattle that I find attractive, up close, when laden with ripe fruit. A scan of it is below. From my reading about the appearance of Chilean Wineberry elsewhere, it is clear that at least some specimens bear lustrous foliage, rather than the dull leaves seen in Seattle. There is also a yellow-variegated clone that has been cultivated in the British Isles since the 1800s and is still for sale. It was first called 'Foliis Variegatis' and now called 'Variegata'. I have not seen it.
    Flowers, appearing in May or June in Seattle, are small, yellowish-white and not showy. The leaves are more or less evergreen, opposite or nearly so, dull green, about 5 inches long and 2 inches wide, or less, with a light scattering of hairs on the veins. They are subtly toothed, and their stems are pink.
    The berries, though ripe in Chile in February, are ripe in Seattle in September. Various authors have likened their flavor to bilberries, currants, or blueberries. I find that they look and taste like small agreeably tart huckleberries. They are shiny black, about a fourth of an inch, and either have 2-4 (6) tiny seeds --or the isolated female specimens in Seattle that bear fruit, are making fruit with infertile seeds. The juice is deep purple. I like the berries fresh, juicy and plump --or dull and dried. In Chile the berries have been used to produce dark blue or black dyes, to color wine, and used to make jam.
    A specimen at 1708 NW 65th Street in Seattle, outside the gray fence, overhanging the sidewalk, stands 24 feet tall, its two largest trunks nearly 5 inches thick. (It was cut down in 2008, but its stump resprouted.) It likely was planted in the late 1990s. With it is a madrona tree and a Fatsia. In Washington Park Arboretum, in the Southern Hemisphere bed (9-4E), are three specimens of accession number #151-94; all female (all set fruit anyway; in May 2008 A and C bore mainly male flowers, and C female ones). The two tallest are both more than 27 feet, the thickest trunk only 3.5 inches thick.
    Names applied to Chilean Wineberry in its native land include: Maqui or Maquei, Koelon, Clon, Queldrón, and Ach. It is a common species, well known, from the lowlands to 2,500 meters elevation. Mostly it is a short-lived, fast growing pioneer species. It is far more apt to be considered a shrub than a small tree (recorded to about 30 feet tall, with trunks to 1 foot thick). Its bark is smooth and gray, and has been peeled to use to make strings for musical instruments. The Mapuche have used the plant for dermatologic conditions. The berries are extremely rich in antioxidant and anthocyanin properties.
    Since isolated females can set fruit, there is no need to grow males. In fact, where both sexes are cultivated, weedy reseeding can occur. This is exemplified in Robinson Crusoe Island, a World Heritage Site and a Chilean National Park. Also at the Tasmanian Arboretum.
    If you desire to grow a Chilean Wineberry, one mail-order source is Colvos Creek Nursery, of Washington. Since at least 1995, this nursery has grown, and since the late 1990s, sold cuttings from the female specimens in Washington Park Arboretum. For details, click here. The Colvos Creek website may be down until later in September or October. Liners are $5 and 1-gallon sizes $10.00. The now deflated Heronswood Nursery of Kingston, sold Chilean Wineberry seedlings from at least 1999 through 2001. Cistus Nursery in Oregon sells it now and then (not listed in 2006 catalog); for details, click here.
    To make the shrub grow less rank, and possibly improve its ability to withstand winter cold, it may be planted in a drier site and given less watering

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Aristotelia scan

Aristotelia chilensis scan by ALJ




Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert

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