This colourful gem is from a genus that is closely related to Vaccinium–the blueberries. Agapetes means “beloved” or “desirable”. Some readers may recognize its similarity to the Greco-Christian type of love known as agape.
This photograph was taken a few years ago in the Rutherford Conservatory at the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden, south of Seattle, Washington, USA. With respect to outdoor plant collections from Asia (particularly rhododendrons), RSBG and UBC Botanical Garden often share material and have similar successes. However, the (impressive) Rutherford Conservatory has allowed RSBG to acquire and maintain a collection of indoor plants that are absent from UBC.
I’ve marked this identification as tentative, though I am somewhat doubtful it is correct. As noted by frequent commenter Pat Collins in the Hygrocybe miniata BPotD entry,
The specific name is specific to the hue of red, minium is red lead, lead tetroxide. Red lead is a striking deep orange-red much the same colour as that fungus and previously much used as a pigment.
The Flora of China account for Agapetes miniata also makes note that the corolla is vermilion or crimson in colour and tubular in shape. This doesn’t seem to match the flowers in today’s photograph. The flora entry also doesn’t make note of the patterning on the corolla, which is actually used in the key to Agapetes to distinguish Agapetes burmanica (with zigzag patterning) from Agapetes miniata (no mention of pattern). This isn’t Agapetes burmanica, though (the patterning could be associated with other species in the key, too).
Here are a few possibilities to potentially explain my confusion.
Possibility 1: This is a very poorly-known species (there are few records of it online), and dried (herbarium) plant material may have been used to make the description–in which case, the flowers perhaps fade to a crimson and lose their patterning when pressed and dried. I am doubtful of this, as the person who named it, Joseph Dalton Hooker, was a plant explorer in the area where it is found in the wild (southeast Tibet (Xizang) and Assam (northeast India)). It is very likely he had access to fresh material.
Possibility 2: I assumed wrongly that a nearby label was in reference to this plant, or a label was misapplied. If that’s the case, others are making the same misunderstanding: see Northwestphoto’s A Visit to My Favorite Botanical Garden (visit the page anyway for more great photos!) or this page from one of the regional nurseries: Agapetes miniata.
Possibilities 3 and 4: Given that the RSBG has as strong of an emphasis (if not stronger) on wild-collected material as UBC Botanical Garden, a misidentification was made when the species was collected, and that name has persisted through all steps in the propagation / cultivation process–and the specimen has yet to be verified against other herbarium specimens. Or, there could have been a mix-up of labels at the nursery or conservatory somewhere along the way. We’ve found for our collection that this is an inevitable occurrence. When an institution like ours grows a number of species of the same genus side-by-side, it is easy for a label to slip one row over (and I imagine this was the scenario at RSBG, as they have significant number of Agapetes in their collection, all of which must have been grown at the same time around the construction of the conservatory in 2009-2010).
Possibility 5: I’m wrong in my skepticism. Do I need yet another reminder to be humble? I suppose we’ll see, if someone with more expertise can contribute in the comments.
There are only a few species / hybrids / cultivars of Agapetes in broader cultivation. It is doubtless this desirable group (“it’s right there, in the name!”) will become more popular with time.