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Gunnera tinctoria

Gunnera tinctoria

Updated and rewritten May 2, 2006 at 10:45am PST to incorporate the proper identification of this plant by Douglas Justice (see comments below).

Commonly known as giant rhubarb or Chilean rhubarb, Gunnera tinctoria, is earmarked as a potentially invasive plant in New Zealand. Carol Ja, a member of the UBC Forums, posted in this thread about a report from New Zealand examining this exotic species: Williams, PA et al. 2005. Chilean rhubarb (Gunnera tinctoria): biology, ecology and conservation impacts in New Zealand (PDF). DOC Research & Development Series 210. Department of Conservation, Wellington. 27 p. (figure 6 on page 21 is both impressive and sad). The report also notes a few observations about naturalizing populations of a related species, Gunnera manicata, suggesting that it also needs to be monitored for invasiveness potential.

Gunnera manicata is native to southeastern Brazil. Some references suggest that this species is also native to Colombia, but this has been rejected through a molecular phylogenetic analysis (see: Wanntorp L, H-E Wanntorp and M. Källersjö. 2002. The identity of Gunnera manicata Linden ex André - resolving a Brazilian-Colombian enigma. Taxon. 51(3):493-497). Thought to have the largest leaves of all Gunnera species, a cultivated plant in Ireland had leaves that measured 3.4m (11ft) in width – all from one growing season (via Wikipedia's entry on Gunnera)

Flickr BPotD Group Pool Pics of the Day: more photographs of today's plant, Gunnera chilensis tinctoria 1 and Gunnera chilensis tinctoria 2, photographed in San Francisco's Strybing Arboretum by EricinSF@Flickr (note: see Douglas Justice's comments below re: synonymy of Gunnera tinctoria and Gunnera chilensis).

Photography / biology resource link: BioMedia (particularly the galleries) provides photographic glimpses into the lives of creatures not usually seen with the naked eye. Photographs are often accompanied by short, informative essays.


Nice unusual picture of a plant not normally seen in this way.

I'd like to object, though, to giving it any kind of rhubarb-based common name. It isn't helpful, in my opinion and Gunnera is not exactly a mouthful.

There is at least one tiny-leaved Gunnera -- to which alas I cannot now find a reference -- and I seem to remember some interesting aspects of their global distribution. None of which is helpful in the least. Sorry.

Objection noted, Jeremy. I waffled on whether to include it or not because of the reasons you mentioned (i.e., it's not related to rhubarb and can't be used like rhubarb).

Livia Wanntorp of Stockholm University has extensively studied Gunnera, and if you follow that link, she's provided a summary of her research findings including aspects of phylogeny and biogeography.

I should note, as an aside – all the grey detritus is last year's plant growth (stems and leaves).

Gunnera manicata - Z8 - RHS Index of Garden Plants, Griffiths
Gunnera manicata - Z7-10 - A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants, Brickell, Cole, Zuk

Like a number of people, I've always confused the large leafed gunneras, Gunnera manicata and G. tinctoria. In fact, I believe that Daniel's photograph is of G. tinctoria. (Yes, there are occasionally misidentified plants in the Botanical Garden.)

The difference can be observed both in the overall size of the plants: more spreading and larger overall in Gunnera manicata; in the size of the individual leaves: growing to an astonishing 5m across in G. manicata, and a mere 1.5 m in G. tinctoria; and in the length and rigidity of the inflorescence branches: flexuous, to 15 cm long in G. manicata; stiffer, to 12 cm on G. tinctoria--see http://www.ccc.govt.nz/Parks/TheEnvironment/WeedGuide/GunneraTinctoria.asp (Canterbury, New Zealand weed guide).

Gunnera chilensis is a synonym of G. tinctoria.

Hi there - the rhubarb moniker may not be warranted, but for those of us not current with the lovely Latin lingo, it does indeed help!
Have seen some lovely specimens of these giant rhubarbs from the southern most areas of Van Isle to Vancouver proper - great site Daniel!!

Jeremy - I grow and enjoy a small leafed, mat forming Gunnera - Gunnera magellanica - in my garden. But I am finding it needs careful monitoring for unlike my previous garden it is spreading more quickly than I would like and I am concerned that the interplanted large numbers of Galanthus nivalis will not prosper. A friend is using all I can supply for holding soil on a steep bank.

Once seemingly inappropriate common names are in use that use is a part of reality. Leaving them out of an account is an omission of facts about the plant in question.

Beverly: that's the one. Thanks. And thanks Daniel for the link.

Ron B: I simply have to disagree. Taxonomists may have legitimate arguments about Linnean binomials, but you tell me how to know what plant you are talking about when you call it "Black-eyed Susan"? There is no objective reality, I agree, but there isn't even good old fashioned democratic tyranny about common names.

I have had trouble trying to grow the Chilensis Gunnera. The ends of leaves curl up and dry. After about 2 weeks they start to die. The instructions state plant on the edge of a pond area. Keep ample water and does well in moist conditions. I've done this? Our zone is 8,9. Its zoned 4-6 14-17,24-24. I want these plants for my yard. Help me so I can have this dream plant. Thank you.

Margarita, you'll have better luck in receiving a response if you post on the UBC Botanical Garden Forums. I'm not expert enough to answer most horticultural questions.

Hello everyone..
Wanted to add a note from England. My mother's cousin, Mrs. Betty Hussey owns (or owned as she has recently died) an Estate called Scotney Castle which is in Kent by a small village called Lamberhurst. There are many Gunnera plants to be found there. I know nothing about plants so can't tell you which ones they are. The leaves at the end of the season though are HUGE !!! I had never seen anything like them. A performance of "Mid Summer Night's Dream" was given by a Turing group of Shakespearian players in the gardens. a stool or a box was placed under one of the larger leafs(leaves?) and Puck sat on it looking very dwarfed and Puckish as he performed.

The grounds are open to the public (I think only in Summer but not sure). Beautiful garden and a very old Castle and well worth the trip.

The Estate is being cared for by the "National Trust". Hope this was of interest to someone. Tina

We used to see some great gunneras in Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island. This last trip up in April we couldn't find any. An abandoned lot that had been full of them was cleared and ready for construction. The small house that was dwarfed by them is gone and apartments fill the site. Very sad.

I just discovered G. Tinctoria today. There is a rather large stand of them in the Arboretum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Indeed the largest of the leaves approach 1.5 meters across.
The plant also has amazing-looking flower stalks.

I would like to know...when I cut the plant down for the winter and cover it with its own leaves to survive the frost...do I also cut down all the inside cones and ferns and also cover them up with the leaves. I love my ghunnera and don't want to lose it to the winter..Thank you JDK

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