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Cantua buxifolia Polemoniaceae
 
Polyspora longicarpa at San Francisco Botanical Garden

Cantua buxifolia 'Hot Pants' by David Kruse-Pickler

 

Cantua, is a small genus of flowering shrubs and trees in the phlox family that contains about 12 species, all of which are restricted to the Andes regions of Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. Cantua buxifolia, commonly called flor del Inca or "flower of the Incas" in Spanish, is found in high valleys of both Bolivia and Peru, and has national flower status in both countries.

Long, tubular flowers emerge in mid to late spring and can be colored white, yellow, orange, magenta, or red, with some varieties sporting multiple colors. Cantua is primarily pollinated by hummingbirds. An evergreen shrub, the flor del Inca can reach six to eight feet in height with a similar width and is hardy to about 25 ℉. It likes moderate to regular water and full sun. The specific epithet 'buxifolia' is derived from the plant genus Buxus, or boxwood, and 'folia,' the plural form of the Latin word for 'leaf,' in reference to the shrub's boxwood-like, oblong, oval-shaped leaves.

Culturally significant to the Incas, the sacred flower of Cantua buxifolia was likely used in religious and political ceremonies. It was reproduced in pottery designs of the era (12th - 16th century), and is still used ceremonially in the funeral rites of native populations in Peru. In an Incan legend, two wealthy kings, Illimani and Illampu, each owned vast quantities of land and had one son. Out of jealousy over wealth, one king attacked the other and each was mortally wounded. Although each son was against this attack, at the death bed of their fathers each was made to promise to continue the war to avenge their father's death. Bound by their promise the sons mounted a second attack, and this time they mortally wounded each other. Before death, each son forgave the other, and their servants were asked to bury their bodies side by side on the battlefield. Mother Earth appeared to the sons and told them they should not suffer for the wrongdoing of their fathers. As a result, she made their fathers' stars fall from the sky, forming the two highest mountains on the Andean Plateau. The rivers that are formed by the seasonal runoff from these two snow-covered peaks are said to be the fathers' tears of regret. These rivers flow through the valleys where Cantua grows, and these plants are considered a symbol of unity. Red and yellow were the colors of the kings' sons, and multiple-colored flower forms containing red, yellow, and green, the latter color representing hope, exemplify this unity.

IN BLOOM CONTRIBUTORS: Text by Corey Barnes. Photos by Joanne Taylor, Mona Bourell and David Kruse-Pickler

Location

Cantua buxifolia can be found
in the Andean Cloud Forest
(Bed 54C and 54D).
Visiting Info >>
Map (Bed Numbers) >>

Profile

Scientific Name Cantua buxifolia
Common Names magic tree, sacred flower of the Incas, sacred flower of the Andes
Family Polemoniaceae (phlox family)
Plant Type Perennial shrub reaching 6 to 10 feet.
Environment Full sun to light shade in well-drained soil with regular to occasional irrigation. It is hardy to around 25 ℉ but does not do well in hot, inland conditions.
Bloom Sporadic throughout the year; plant may take up to 4 years to bloom.
Uses Shrub has erect stems and arching branches that can benefit from staking and pruning back the longer stems. Prune just after flowering as the flowers are produced on the previous season's wood. The gorgeous, tubular flowers attract hummingbirds.
More Info Cultivars: 'Hot Pants', with flowers that are neon red-orange with hot-pink; 'Golden Inca', with flowers that are golden yellow with white lobes.
 
 
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Fitzroya cupressoides

Fitzroya cupressoides

January

Polyspora longicarpa

Polyspora longicarpa

February

Polyspora longicarpa

Magnolia laevifolia

March

Magnolia campbellii

Magnolia campbellii

January

Magnolia doltsopa

Magnolia doltsopa

February

Magnolia liliiflora

Magnolia liliiflora

March

Vireya Rhododendrons

Vireya Rhododendrons

April

Leucospermum spp.

Leucospermum spp.

May

Senna multiglandulosa

Senna multiglandulosa

June

Tagetes lemmonii

Tagetes lemmonii

July

Eucomis spp.

Eucomis spp.

August

Cuphea spp.

Cuphea spp.

September

Phyllocladus trichomanoides

Phyllocladus trichomanoides

October

Phyllocladus trichomanoides

Saurauia Madrensis

November

Pinus pseudostrobus

Pinus pseudostrobus

December

Magnolia dawsoniana

Magnolia dawsoniana

January

Magnolia campbellii 'Strybing White'

Magnolia campbellii 'Strybing White'

February

Magnolia laevifolia'Strybing Compact'

Magnolia laevifolia 'Strybing Compact'

March

Aristolochia californica

Aristolochia californica

April

Chlorogalum pomeridianum

Chlorogalum pomeridianum

May

Arbutus menziesii

Arbutus menziesii

June

Romneya coulteri

Romneya coulteri

July

Cistus sp.

Cistus sp.

August

Rosmarinus sp.

Rosmarinus sp.

September

Dahlia spp.

Dahlia spp.

October

Salvia cacaliifolia

Salvia cacaliifolia

November

Salvia cacaliifolia

Salvia microphylla
'Hot Lips'

November

Magnolia campbellii

Magnolia campbellii

January

Magnolia denudata

Magnolia denudata

February

Magnolia x veitchii

Magnolia x veitchii

March

Iris douglasiana

Iris douglasiana

April

Aesculus californica

Aesculus californica

May

Vaccinium ovatum

Vaccinium ovatum

June

Sambucus racemosa

Sambucus racemosa

July

Sequoia sempervirens

Sequoia sempervirens

August

Asarum caudatum

Asarum caudatum

September

Deppea splendens

Deppea splendens

October

Montanoa spp.

Montanoa spp.

November

Bidens sp.

Bidens sp.

December

Acer palmatum 'Sango kaku'

Acer palmatum 'Sango kaku'

January

Magnolia campbellii 'Darjeeling'

Magnolia campbellii 'Darjeeling'

February

Bomaria spp.

Bomarea spp.

March

Rhododendron occidentale

Rhododendron occidentale

April

Polystichum munitum

Polystichum munitum

May

x Chiranthofremontia lenzii

x Chiranthofremontia lenzii

June

Salvia leucantha

Salvia leucantha

July

Hydrangea seemannii

Hydrangea seemannii

August

Wollemia nobilis

Wollemia nobilis

September

Cyathea cooperi

Cyathea cooperi

October

Pinus radiata

Pinus radiata

November

Correa spp.

Correa spp.

December

Garrya elliptica

Garrya elliptica

January

Magnolia x soulangeana

Magnolia x soulangeana

February

Senecio glastifolius

Senecio glastifolius

March

Ribes spp.

Ribes spp.

April

Oxalis oregana

Oxalis oregana

May

Calandrinia grandiflora

Calandrinia grandiflora

June

Taxus baccata

Taxus baccata

July

Romneya coulteri

Romneya coulteri

August

Passiflora parritae

Passiflora parritae

September

Malvaviscus arboreus

Malvaviscus arboreus

October

Monterey Cypress

Monterey Cypress

November

Aloe arborescens

Aloe arborescens

December

Aloe plicatilis

Aloe plicatilis

January

Banksia seminuda

Banksia seminuda

February

Zantedeschia elliottiana

Zantedeschia aethiopica

March

Magnolia laevifolia

Magnolia laevifolia

April

Araucaria heterophylla

Araucaria heterophylla

May

Toxicodendron diversilobum

Toxicodendron diversilobum

June

Clarkia sp.

Clarkia sp.

July

Agapanthus

Agapanthus

August

Brugmansia

Brugmansia

September

Cedrus spp.

Cedrus spp.

October

Protea repens

Protea repens

November

Camellia sinensis

Camellia sinensis

December

Thujopsis dolabrata

Thujopsis dolabrata

January

Gordonia longicarpa

Gordonia longicarpa

February

Rojasianthe superba

Rojasianthe superba

March

Echium spp.

Echium spp.

April

Iris douglasiana

Iris douglasiana

May

Digitalis purpurea

Digitalis purpurea

June

Felicia amelloides

Felicia amelloides

July

Ceroxylon quindiuense

Ceroxylon quindiuense

August

Amaryllis belladonna

Amaryllis belladonna

September

Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo biloba

October

Acer morrisonense

Acer morrisonense

November

Ilex aquifolium

Ilex aquifolium

December

Picea sitchensis

Picea sitchensis

January

Telanthophora grandifolia

Telanthophora grandifolia

February

Aeonium arboreum 'Schwartzkopf'

Aeonium arboreum 'Schwartzkopf'

March

Leptospermum Spp.

Leptospermum

April

Salvia gesneraeflora

Salvia gesneraeflora

May

Lavandula spp.

Lavandula spp.

June

Pelargonium

Pelargonium

July

Fuchsia paniculata

Fuchsia paniculata

August

Luma apiculata

Luma apiculata

September

Luculia

Luculia

October

Arbutus unedo

Arbutus unedo

November

Cycads

Cycad

December

Restionaceae

Restionaceae

January

Hellebores

Hellebores

February

Ceanothus

Ceanothus

March

Rhododendron

Rhododendron

April

Psoralea pinnata

Psoralea pinnata

May

Fremontodendron californicum

Fremontodendron californicum

June

Leucadendron argenteum

Leucadendron argenteum

July

Crocosmia

Crocosmia

August

Gunnera tinctoria

Gunnera tinctoria

September

Pellaea rotundifolia

Pellaea rotundifolia

October

Fuchsia boliviana

Fuchsia boliviana

November

Erica canaliculata

Erica canaliculata

December

Magnolia campbelli

Magnolia campbelli

January

Magnolia denudata

Magnolia denudata

February

Camellia

Camellia

March

Geranium maderense

Geranium maderense

April

Acmena smithii

Acmena smithii

May

Eschscholzia californica

Eschscholzia californica

June

Dendromecon harfordii

Dendromecon harfordii

July

Romneya coulteri

Romneya coulteri

August

Eupatorium purpureum

Eupatorium purpureum

September

Epilobium canum sp.

Epilobium canum sp.

October

Grevillea spp.

Grevillea spp.

November

Drimys winteri

Drimys winteri

December

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