Brownea grandiceps (rose of Venezuela)
Found in the understorey of Amazonian rainforests, rose of Venezuela is considered by many to be one of the most spectacular of all flowering trees.
About this species
Rose of Venezuela is a tropical tree belonging to the pea and bean family (Fabaceae/Leguminosae). It is one of 12 species in the genus Brownea, which was named in honour of Dr Patrick Browne (1720–1790), an Irish botanist and physician.
The tree produces magnificent, crimson, almost spherical inflorescences up to 20 cm wide, which hang from the underside of the main branches. It flowers sporadically throughout the year, and individual flowers remain open for only four days. Nevertheless, each inflorescence remains attractive for weeks, as it is composed of many flowers that open in succession.
The magnificent crimson flowers lack any scent, but they secrete copious amounts of sweet nectar attracting hummingbirds, which pollinate the flowers. Nectar is also produced in extrafloral nectaries positioned on the sheath-like bracts that envelop the immature inflorescences.
Geography & Distribution
Rose of Venezuela is restricted to tropical South America. It is native to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela, where it is found in the understorey of hot and humid tropical Amazonian rainforests.
It has been introduced as an ornamental to tropical regions of Africa, Asia and Oceania and is often grown in glasshouses in temperate areas.
Fruits of Brownea grandiceps (Image: Michael Benedito, RBG Kew)
Overview: A tree growing up to 20 m tall. The trunk is light brown with conspicuous, horizontal lenticels (wart-like openings that allow gas exchange to take place).
Leaves: About 30 cm long, hairless, borne alternately on the stem. Each leaf is divided into 8–26 elliptic leaflets with a noticeable drip tip (a feature typical of rainforest trees). Leaflets are arranged in pairs along a downy rachis (central axis). Young leaves are pendant, brown with green speckles, maturing to a uniform bright green.
Flowers: Large scarlet flowers are arranged in dense, almost spherical inflorescences and are enclosed by conspicuous bracts. Each flower has five petals, four sepals, 11 stamens and one style with a hairy ovary. Flowering is intermittent, and the flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds.
Fruits: The fruit is a woody pod (legume), covered in brown velvety hairs, and containing up to five large, brown seeds. The seeds are only viable for a short period of time.
Playing dead to deter herbivores
Immature foliage of Brownea grandiceps (Image: Michael Benedito, RBG Kew)
Rose of Venezuela has delicate young shoots with the immature foliage coloured brown with green markings and hanging down in limp tassels, giving the appearance of wilting or dying. Over a period of a few days, the soft leaves will slowly toughen up and turn deep green, and the entire shoot will gradually stiffen and adopt a more horizontal position.
This astonishing change of appearance is thought to deceive potential predators, discouraging them from feeding on tender young growth, by camouflaging it to look like a dead branch with brown leaves.
Brownea grandiceps flowerhead (Image: Michael Benedito, RBG Kew)
Rose of Venezuela is cultivated as an ornamental in tropical regions for its showy inflorescences and the striking appearance of the emerging foliage.
Dried flowers have been used in infusions to treat dysentery. Bark has been used to reduce bleeding and aid clotting of the blood.
Rose of Venezuela has also been used as a contraceptive by indigenous tribes in the Ecuadorian and Colombian Amazon.
Brownea grandiceps flower (Image: Michael Benedito, RBG Kew)
Brownea grandiceps is a tropical understory tree that requires well-drained soil, warm year-round temperatures and high relative humidity to thrive.
At Kew, it is grown in a glasshouse with a minimum winter temperature of 18ºC as it does not tolerate temperatures below 15ºC for extended periods of time. It also requires a good supply of water until it is fully mature. Under conditions of low humidity, leaflet edges start to show symptoms of necrosis.
This species at Kew
Herbarium specimen of Brownea grandiceps (Image: RBG Kew)
Rose of Venezuela can be seen growing in the tropical rainforest zone of the Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew. The flowers showed signs of self-incompatibility, but fertilization was successful with pollen from a different Brownea growing in Kew’s Palm House.
Pressed and dried specimens of Brownea grandiceps, including the type specimen, are held in Kew’s Herbarium where they are available to researchers by appointment. Details of some of these specimens, including images, can be seen online in Kew’s Herbarium Catalogue.
Specimens of seeds, dried flowers, leaves and wood from Brownea grandiceps are held in Kew’s Economic Botany Collection, where they are available to researchers by appointment.
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