Tropaeolum tricolor (three-coloured Indian cress)
Three-coloured Indian cress is a delicate, colourful climber with thread-like stems and small, bright red, purple and yellow, long-spurred flowers.
About this species
This attractive, delicate-looking but hardy climber has masses of thread-like stems which climb into any available vegetation. The stems can reach 5 m long, and appear in late winter from a reddish, underground tuber (storage organ). The bright green leaves are soft, round and deeply five or six-lobed. The small flowers appear in spring, singly in the leaf axils, and have a long, pointed red spur, dark sepals and small yellow petals in the pinched mouth. The flowers are pollinated by green-backed firecrown hummingbirds (Sephanoides sephaniodes).
Geography & Distribution
Native to central and northern Chile, where it occurs from the coastal mountains of Antofagasta, south to the temperate forests of Los Lagos. In the north it is found growing in fog zone vegetation between about 300-900 m above sea level, but further south in central Chile it grows at up to 2,500 m above sea level.
A straggling, tuberous, climber up to around 5 m high, attaching by curling petioles (leaf stalks). The leaves are peltate (rounded and with petiole attached near the centre), deeply five or six-lobed and up to 25 mm across. The flowers are about 3 cm long, including the spur. The calyx (whorl of sepals) has five lobes and is red, orange or yellow, with a dark purplish band, and is extended to form a slender, red spur. The petals are small (4–5 x 2–4 mm), yellow or green and round, with a long, narrow stalk-like base. The dark brown fruits have 2 or 3 mericarps (seed-containing parts, each deriving from a carpel) each containing dark brown seeds.
Illustration from Curtis's Botanical Magazine
Hand-coloured engraving of Tropaeolum tricolor by W.J. Hooker (1832) reproduced from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine.
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.
See the Wiley-Blackwell Subscription Information page for rates (for both print and online).
Three-coloured Indian cress is cultivated as an ornamental.
Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage
Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life worldwide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.
Description of seeds: Average 1,000 seed weight = 23.5 g.
Number of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: None.
Tropaeolum tricolor (Image: Richard Wilford)
Three-coloured Indian cress is the longest flowering species of Tropaeolum in the collection at Kew, and also one of the most vigorous. It can easily cover, and overtop, the 2 m stakes provided as support. It is grown in a frost-free glasshouse, in large (30 cm diameter) pots, filled with a free-draining, loam-based soil mix. The plants are re-potted in late summer and, once watered, growth soon appears above the ground. At re-potting time the tubers are often found near the bottom of the pot and if seedlings are raised and left too long before potting up, the tubers may emerge through the drainage hole at the bottom. The first buds are produced by early spring.
This species at Kew
Pressed and dried specimens of Tropaeolum tricolor are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers by appointment. The details of some of these specimens, including images, can be seen on-line in the Herbarium Catalogue.
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