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What is Embothrium?

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  • Written By: Alex Tree
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 12 October 2018
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The Embothrium genus belongs to the plant family Proteaceae. Some of its common species are Embothrium coccineum, grandiflorum, and lanceolatum. The genus is commonly known by names such as ciruelillo, fosforito, and Chilean firebrush. Species belonging to this genus are shrubs or trees that can grow 32 to 65 ft (10 to 20 m) tall. They are used primarily as ornamental plants because of their bright and colorful flowers.

This genus is native to South America and found in abundance in Chile, southern Peru, and western Argentina. It was introduced to Europe by William Lobb. Embothrium and other genera from the same family, such as Alloxylon, Oreocallis, and Telopea, have been around for more than 60 million years. They can be found in fossilized form on all continents that originated from Gondwanaland, including South America, Australia, and Antarctica. Embothrium thrives in oceanic climates, has flowers in striking colors, and reproduces by bird pollination.

The leaves are long and rounded at the ends and have a smooth, waxy texture. They are generally 0.8 to 1.6 in (2 to 4 cm) wide and grow up to 2 to 4.8 in (5 to 12 cm) in length. All species are evergreen, which means they shed leaves all year round but exhibit a deciduous nature in cold regions and higher altitudes. Their trunks can be up to 27.5 in (70 cm) in diameter. The bark of these plants is chocolate brown in color and dotted with tiny white spots.

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Their flowers are bright red in color and occur in dense bunches. The lanceolatum species has either red or pale yellow flowers, which are tubular and generally 1.2 to 1.8 in (3 to 5 cm) long. Each flower splits into four lobes at the tip and then curves outward.

Known for the vivid red color of its flowers, Embothrium coccineum is the most cultivated species. It is grown in Europe, New Zealand, and the Pacific Northwest coast of North America. Plants of this species produce light pink wood, which is soft as well as durable and water resistant.

The plants are in full bloom during spring, after which the flowers turn into fruits in summer. These fruits are green in color, have an elongated shape, and contain up to 10 seeds. When growing Chilean firebrush, only fertilizers that do not contain the element phosphorous should be used, as the plant cannot tolerate it. Seeds should ideally be planted in fertile and well-drained soil in a sunny but sheltered spot in the garden.

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