Alpine Garden Society

Ulster Group

Plant of the Month, December 2009
Gunnera prorepens - by David Ledsham

Gunnera prorepens

 A number of visitors to our garden are quite surprised to learn  that this happy little coloniser is indeed a Gunnera, especially  since most of the publicity accorded to the genus involves  the 'biggies', G. manicata and G.tinctoria. But of course there  are a significant number of 'mini-Gunneras' as well. I grow three  of these smaller species; G. prorepens and G. hamiltonii, both from  the sub-alpine zones of New Zealand, and also G. magellanica  which is found growing in similar conditions in Chile. 

But my  favourite species (illustrated here) is Gunnera prorepens and,  for me, it's the bright crimson fruiting spikes which give this  species the edge.

Gunnera prorepens

The other two species, although attractive in  leaf, have never flowered that successfully, but from mid-September  until Christmas the 4 cm. long upright 'candles' of G. prorepens  never fail to catch the eye, even on the dullest day.
The flowers  are monoecious and very inconspicuous so that its really only  the eventual presence of the fruiting bodies which indicate that  flowering had indeed taken place. 
 It is extremely obliging as  groundcover plant and particularly as a coloniser of damp banks, but don't be alarmed, it is not that difficult to control!  Apparently it  does not do that well in the relatively drier parts of the U.K., but it  loves the 'soft' Irish climate as do a number of other New Zealand species.  
ref. Daniel J. Hinckley 1999 The Explorers Garden  Timber Press