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Ugni molinae – Orlaith Murphy

Ugni molinae, long-overlooked member of the myrtle family was first described by Molina, an Italian Jesuit living in Chile. Appearing in his book The geographical, natural and civil history of Chili which was published in 1809, it generated considerable interest in the English firm of Veitch. They saw potential for the shrub to grow in England so sent the plant hunter William Lobb off to Chile to investigate, he promptly returned with shrub in hand and cultivation began in 1851.

What hits you first about this Myrtle like shrub, is the smell of the delicious fruit. From late summer clouds of fragrant strawberry waft as you pass, tempting you to pick them – but hang in there and let them ripen into mid-autumn, even later and you’ll get them at their very best! Your wait won’t be in vain – the flavour lives up to its delicious smell, a gentle spicy strawberry, almost slightly sherbet will tantalise your taste buds.

Growing as a small evergreen shrub, a metre by a meter, unpruned, its myrtle like leaves are small, waxy and deep green with pale pink flowers in summer. But it is the berries that steal the show and though commonly found in the markets of Chile it is rarely seen in other parts of the world. Queen Victoria did her best to promote it in the 19th century; it is rumoured that it was her favourite fruit and she would have it sent by train to London from the mild climate of Cornwall.

More recently I read a post from Nick Macer of Pan Global Plants in the UK extolling the virtues of this wonderful plant. Most of the plants you find in nurseries are the same generic stock however Nick has a particularly good form called Ugni molinae ‘Villarica Strawberry’. This is a Paul Barney introduction from Pucon, Chile and is a hardier form of the species which gives us even more of us the chance to grow this fab fruiting plant outside permanently. See www.panglobalplants.com

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