Drimys winteri

This photograph was taken at the offices of the Chagual Botanic Garden (English translation) in Santiago, Chile, last October. The garden is in development and is not yet open to the public, but I had the good fortune to tour the garden site with the director, Antonia Echenique. The design for the new garden, which will feature native plants and those from other Mediterranean climate zones, has been carefully planned and the garden will be one of the best places to see Chilean plants.

This entry was co-written by Douglas Justice, Randal Mindell and myself.

Drimys winteri is an evergreen tree or shrub native to temperate rainforests of Argentina and Chile. According to Plants for a Future, The aromatic pungent bark is powdered and used as a pepper substitute in Brazil, Chile and Argentina, and is rich in vitamin C. According to Clements Robert Markham in his book The Sea Fathers (Cassell & co., 1884), Winter, who was captain of the Elizabeth (one of five ships in Francis Drake’s fleet) saved his crew from the ravages of scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) on the voyage home by means of a decoction of the bark.

The genus name is from the Greek: drimys = acrid, pungent (from the taste of the bark). Captain Winter evidently steeped the bark in honey to remove some of its acridity. Drimys winteri was named by Johann Reinhold Forster and his son Johann Georg Forster. Johann the elder was the naturalist in Cook’s second voyage in 1773.

Drimys is of considerable interest to botanists due to the lack of vessels in their water-conducting tissues. Members of Winteraceae have long been thought to be an early-diverging branch of the angiosperm tree of life. Fossil evidence for the antiquity of the family comes in the form of Lower Cretaceous (~125 million years ago) pollen tetrads. By the Late Cretaceous, there is abundant evidence for the family in the form of vesselless wood, leaves and pollen in places as far flung as California and James Ross Island (off the Antarctic Peninsula).

Drimys winteri

10 responses to “Drimys winteri”

  1. Karen Vieira

    The foliage is reminiscent of rhododendron. Related?

  2. Alina

    Hi all,
    Such a beautiful plant! We have it in Ecuador too!
    Note, and no, it is not related to Ericaceae.

  3. He Who Lives With Yankees

    And so are the stems.

  4. Barb Mullinix

    To me the foliage looked like bay leaf.

  5. Annie Morgan

    Thanks for the interesting history! Lovely pic.

  6. elizabeth a airhart

    just back from google books
    reading pages from sea fathers -adventure
    books indeed they left us with so much
    this a most interesting plant ever so pretty
    thank you all

  7. Eric Simpson

    The foliage, especially the leaf shape, is a fairly common trait in rainforest species, as it helps the plant shed rainfall quickly, reducing the risk of stem/limb breakage due to the weight of water.

  8. Quin

    Is there some precursor to ‘Ecstasy’ in the foliage? Is that only in D. lanceolata? That would be some kind of pepper!

  9. Mary Ann, in Toronto

    Very pretty, and very interesting write-up.
    I love these flowers, and their arrangement — the way they spray out and float in the air.
    I’m curious, do the flowers have much scent?

  10. Carla Maldonado

    How can I get this plant 🌱 here in Vancouver B.C.? Is Considered a sacred plant 🌱 For the Mapuche First Nations of Chile and Argentina This beautiful 🌱 Is for medicinal and ceremonial Purposes Is very sacred .

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