Rhodochiton atrosanguineum (purple bell vine)
Rhodochiton atrosanguineum is a delicate and beautiful Mexican climber with heart-shaped leaves that coil around any support.
About this species
Rhodochiton atrosanguineum is a quickly growing climber with heart-shaped leaves and stems that coil around any support. Although perennial in warm climates, in cooler areas it is usually grown as an annual, flowering from late summer until the first hard frost. The flowers hang down on slender stalks with a bell-shaped, rose-pink calyx contrasting with the almost black corolla, which has a long tube and five rounded lobes. The seeds are formed in a whitish, four-lobed capsule hidden inside the persistent calyx.
Geography & Distribution
Native to southern Mexico, where it occurs in the north-eastern part of the state of Oaxaca. It has been found near San Juan Juquila and in the Sierra de Juarez, north-east of Oaxaca city, at 2,300–2,500 m above sea level and elsewhere in northern Oaxaca at 1,500–3,500m. It climbs in scrub and the lower branches of trees, in cool, deep valleys.
A perennial with stems climbing up to around 3 m high. The leaves are heart-shaped, up to 5 cm long and pale green, with shallow lobes. The petioles (leaf stalks) curl around any support. The flower stems are slender, pendent and about 6 cm long. The calyx is umbrella-shaped, with five broad lobes, and 4 cm across. The corolla is 4.5 cm long and blackish-purple, with five rounded lobes. The stamens have contrasting white pollen. The style is slender and undivided. The fruit is a whitish, four-lobed capsule.
Illustration from Curtis's Botanical Magazine
Hand-coloured lithograph of Rhodochiton atrosanguineum (as R. volubile) by W.H. Fitch (1834) taken from Curtis's Botanical Magazine (Image: RBG Kew)
The illustration of Rhodochiton atrosinguineum featured in Curtis's Botanical Magazine was created using an introduction by Baron Karwinski, who sent seed from Mexico to Munich in 1828. Following this, the species soon spread throughout the botanic gardens of Europe.
Curtis’s Botanical Magazine (Editor: Martyn Rix) provides an international forum of particular interest to botanists and horticulturists, plant ecologists and those with a special interest in botanical illustration.
Now well over two hundred years old, the Magazine is the longest running botanical periodical featuring colour illustrations of plants. Each four-part volume contains 24 plant portraits reproduced from watercolour originals by leading international botanical artists. Detailed but accessible articles combine horticultural and botanical information, history, conservation and economic uses of the plants described.
Published for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew by Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.
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Threats & Conservation
Rhodochiton atrosanguineum grows in densely forested areas and is not known to be threatened.
Purple bell vine is cultivated as an ornamental.
Theodore Hartweg’s botanical exploration of Mexico
There have been few collections of Rhodochiton species from the wild. The specimen of R. atrosanguineum in Kew’s Herbarium was collected by Theodore Hartweg in 1839. Hartweg was employed by the Horticultural Society of London (now the Royal Horticultural Society) to collect seeds and plants, particularly orchids, in Mexico. Sir William Hooker, soon to become Director of Kew, wrote in The Companion to the Botanical Magazine in January 1837:
‘Mr. Theodore Hartweg embarked for Mexico in the service of the Horticultural Society, to whom therefore all living plants, roots, and seeds will be sent: but that useful Institution has generously allowed him to dispose of dried specimens of plants on his own account, which he will do at the rate of pound 2 the hundred species. All applications, however, for shares must be made through the Horticultural Society, by letters addressed either to Mr. Bentham, or to Mr. Lindley. From the capital of Mexico, Mr. Hartweg will go to Guanaxato and proceed northward ...keeping as much as he can to the Tierra fria. He will remain in the country two or three years, that is, if the state of it will admit of botanizing; but it is so disturbed, that he may probably have to take another direction and visit Bolivia, which presents a yet more interesting field. Which ever way he goes, we are authorized in anticipating great things from him.’
Hooker was not to be disappointed; Hartweg made many valuable collections and travelled in South America until 1843. George Bentham published many of the new species in Plantae Hartwegianae (1839–1857).
This species at Kew
Purple bell vine can be seen growing in the grounds of Cambridge Cottage at Kew.
Pressed and dried specimens of Rhodochiton atrosanguineum are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers from around the world, by appointment. The details of one of these (collected by Theodore Hartweg in 1839), including an image, can be seen on-line in the Herbarium Catalogue.
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