Crinodendron hookerianum: Chilean lantern tree, Tricuspidaria lanceolata
There are some trees that you don’t come across very often, but when you do they are guaranteed to blow you away. Crinodendron hookerianum, the Chilean lantern tree is one of them. Like all good plants it was introduced to the UK by a Cornishman, William Lobb, in 1848. The species name hookerianum honors Sir William Jackson Hooker, an English botanist who studied many Chilean plants.
A slow-growing tree, C. hookerianum needs shelter and a partially shaded spot, but most importantly it demands humus-rich, acidic soil, just like rhododendrons. In its natural habitat trees tend to grow near streams or in damp, humid places: hence they fare well in western parts of the UK and Ireland.
The leaves of Crinodendron hookerianum put me in mind of Phillyrea latifolia, which grows so well in our seaside garden, but it’s the carmine-pink flowers, suspended in long rows beneath the branches, that this tree is admired for. The pendent, bell-shaped corollas are made up of five petals, each with a finely toothed edge. They feel waxy and look thoroughly oriental. If you have the right conditions you’d be a fool not to find a home for this wonderful tree. Not only will you be dazzled by its late spring / early summer display, but so will your family, friends and neighbours.