Pyrostegia venusta (flame vine)
Flame vine is a rampant climber that carries cascades of bright orange tubular flowers. Although a dazzling spectacle when in full flower, in some parts of the world it has become naturalised and a weed.
Bright orange tubular flowers of Pyrostegia venusta
Pyrostegia venusta (Ker-Gawl.) Miers
flame vine, golden shower, Chinese cracker flower, belas (Brazil)
Not evaluated according to IUCN Red List criteria.
Rocky places, forests in seasonally dry areas, scrub.
Ornamental, traditional medicine.
About this species
Pyrostegia venusta is a liana (a vigorous, woody climber) that makes a beautiful ornamental plant with cascades of orange flowers. It is commonly grown in tropical and subtropical areas, as well as in mild Mediterranean climates. The plants form dense masses, growing up trees, on walls or over rocks, and are covered with flowers in the cool, dry season.
The plant from which the painting of P. venusta in Curtis’s Botanical Magazine was illustrated was collected in Brazil in 1815 by Admiral Sir John Beresford (Second Sea Lord and Conservative politician). It was brought to the editor of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine by William Smith, who looked after Lord Liverpool’s garden at Combe Wood in Surrey. Lord Liverpool became Prime Minister in 1812 after the assassination of Spencer Perceval and died at Combe Wood in 1828.
Bignonia venusta Ker-Gawl., Pyrostegia ignea (Vell.) C.Presl
Geography and distribution
This species is native to Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay. According to some records, it may occur naturally as far north as Mexico. It is also commonly cultivated throughout the tropics and other frost-free regions of the world, where it can become naturalised and is sometimes considered invasive.
Pyrostegia venusta climbs up to 6 m or more. The leaves have paired leaflets (5.0–7.5 cm), and a long, central 3-branched, twisting tendril. The crowded clusters of flowers are formed in the leaf axils on the tips of shoots. The orange, yellow or red flowers are 4–8 cm long, tubular, with narrow recurved lobes. Each flower has an exerted style and two long exerted and two shorter stamens. The capsule is narrowly cylindrical and filled with winged seeds. After the petals fall off, they hang for a day or so by the style before dropping. In the wild, P. venusta is pollinated by hummingbirds.
In Brazil, the leaves of Pyrostegia venusta are used in traditional medicine as a tonic and for treating diarrhoea. However, Pyrostegia venusta is more widely known as an ornamental climber that makes a dazzling spectacle when in full flower. It flowers throughout the year in favourable locations (with a peak in June to September in its native range). In some parts of the world, such as in Queensland (Australia), south-eastern USA and on some Pacific islands, it has become naturalised and is considered a weed, smothering native vegetation. There is a risk that it could become invasive in other countries where it has been introduced.
This species at Kew
Flame vine is found in the Princess of Wales Conservatory, flowering mainly in winter.
Pressed and dried specimens of Pyrostegia venusta are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers from around the world, by appointment. The details of some of these, including images, can be seen online in the Herbarium Catalogue.
Herklots, G. (1976). Flowering Tropical Climbers. Dawson, Folkestone & Science History Publications, New York.
Mors, W. B., Toledo Rizzini, C. & Alvares Pereira, N. (ed. R. A. DeFilipps) (2000). Medicinal Plants of Brazil. Reference Publications, Algonac, Michigan.
Phillips, R. & Rix, M. (1989). Conservatory and Indoor Plants. Pan Books, London.
Pool, A. (2008). A review of the genus Pyrostegia (Bignoniaceae). Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 95: 495-510.
World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (2010). Pyrostegia venusta. The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Available online (accessed 18 September 2011).
Kew Science Editor: Martyn Rix
Kew contributors: Steve Davis (Sustainable Uses Group)
Copyediting: Malin Rivers
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