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What Is Pernettya: Tips On Growing Pernettya Plants

What Is Pernettya: Tips On Growing Pernettya Plants


By: Teo Spengler

Even scientists don’t know everything about the pernettya bush (Pernettya mucronata syn. Gaultheria mucronata) – like which ones are poisonous. So it is no surprise that many people who hear its name may ask: “What is pernettya?”

Pernettya is a small shrub that produces massive amounts of glistening berries. Read on for information about pernettya plant care.

What is Pernettya?

The pernettya bush is a broadleaf evergreen with small, shiny leaves of the deepest green. In some regions, the pernettya’s leaves turn brown or bronze in winter. The plant grows to between 2 and 5 (.6-1.5 m.) feet tall, depending on site and cultivar.

Pernettya’s bell-shaped flowers appear in late spring, usually in white or red. But it is the berries that sell this bush to gardeners, with a wealth of large, shining berries that hang on the shrub all winter and into spring. These berries can be red, pink, white or lilac, depending on the cultivar. Often when new flowers appear in May, berries from the prior year still decorate the shrub.

Growing Pernettya Plants

A pernettya bush is not difficult to grow. The rules for pernettya plant care are similar to those for blueberries. They do best in full or part sun in peaty, acidic soil, so mix peat moss or organic compost into the soil before planting. Feed with a fertilizer for rhododendrons in late February and early June.

A pernettya bush spreads to about 4 feet (1.2 m.) wide. In fact, the shrubs spread so quickly and easily by underground runners that they are considered invasive in some regions. Keep this in mind.

Are Pernettya Berries Poisonous?

Scientists do not agree about whether pernettya berries are toxic or lethal if eaten. While some cultivars may produce poisonous berries, this does not seem to be the case across the board.

Tribal peoples of Central and South America relied on different types of pernettya as a major part of their sustenance, and gardeners continue to eat them today without bad effects. However, scientists warn of toxic consequences like hallucination, paralysis and death.

In short, there is no definite answer to the question “are pernettya berries poisonous?” Given that, you are probably best off NOT eating them. If you have small children or pets, planting pernettya shrubs may not be a good idea either.

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Pernettya furens, Parvifolia – Hierba Loca

FAMILY: Ericaceae

GENUS: Pernettya

SPECIES: Furens, Parvifolia, spp.

COMMON NAMES: Peat Myrtle, Hierba Loca (“maddening plant”), Huedhued, Taglli, Macha-macha

Hierba loca and taglli (Pernettya furens and Pernettya parvifolia) are two of about twenty species of Pernettya, mostly very small sub-shrubs that grow in the highlands from Mexico to Chile, the Galápagos and Falkland islands, Tasmania, and New Zealand. These plants belong to the heath family, Ericaceae, along with the cranberry, blueberry, Scotch heather, rhododendron, and trailing arbutus. Several species are known to be toxic to cattle and man, but only these two are known definitely to be employed as hallucinogens (Ratsch 1998, 575).

These two species of Pernettya are small sprawling, bushy shrubs with dense leaves. Their flowers are white or rose tinted, and the berries are white to purple in color (Hofmann et al. 1992, 53).

TRADITIONAL USES: It is questionable as to whether the fruits of this genus have been used culturally on their own as a psychoactive sacrament. It is possible that the ripe fruits were used solely in the preparation of various intoxicating drinks. However, the plant does seem to have some sort of entheogenic quality – in Peru, folk healers say that the spirit of the plant appears as a bull. In Venezuela, various species of the genus are called borrachero, a name that is used for most all plants of the region that have psychoactive or inebriating effects (Ratsch 1998, 575).

TRADITIONAL PREPARATIONS: Ripe fruits of various species of Pernettya are used in Chile in the brewing of chicha, a type of maize or corn beer that usually contains a variety of tubers and fruits. In northern Peru curanderos, or folk healers, add a species of Pernettya they call toro-maique to their San Pedro brew. This is said to give the drink more power (Ratsch 1998, 575).

TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: Pernettya furens, which in Chile is called hierba loca (“maddening plant”) or huedhued, has fruits that, when eaten, can cause mental confusion, madness, possession, and permanent insanity. The intoxication resembles that following the ingestion of Datura (Hofmann et al. 1992, 53).

The fruit of Pernettya parvifolia, or Taglli, of Ecuador, is well recognized as poisonous, capable of inducing hallucinations and other psychic alterations as well as affecting the motor system. Though the chemistry of these and other species of Pernettya needs further study, it seems that the toxicity may be due to andromedotoxin, a resinoid, or to arbutin, a glycoside. Both compounds are rather common in this plant family (Ratsch 1998, 575).

The fruit of the Andean species Pernettya prostrata, called macha-macha, is said to cause dizziness and a drunken quality in those who ingest them. In Bolivia and Columbia, children have even died from eating the fruit of this species. This species, along with several others of the genus, are considered very toxic. Overdose on toxic Pernettya spp. berries results in salivation, vomiting, depressed respiration, collapse, debility, and death (Voogelbreinder 2009, 270).

Hofmann, A., Ratsch, C., Schultes, R., Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers. Rochester: Healing Arts Press, 1992.

Ratsch, Christian., The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and its Applications. Rochester: Park Street Press, 1998.

Voogelbreinder, Snu, Garden of Eden: The Shamanic Use of Psychoactive Flora and Fauna, and the Study of Consciousness. Snu Voogelbreinder, 2009.


Pernettya Plant Care - Learn How To Grow A Pernettya Bush - garden

United Kingdom

I have just bought a small Pernettya from B & Q for 10p! I dont have one in the garden and I have read that it is a hardy plant that will thrive almost anywhere, but just need to know how to care for it - when to prune, feeding etc. Any ideas?

Answers

Hi Ails and welcome to GoY. Pernettya prefer acidic soil, semi shade, mulch with something like composted bark when you plant and should not need feeding, I would only prune if it gets straggly and then in Feb. time so you don't lose the berries which are the main attraction.

Before you plant remove from the pot and soak in water for 24 hours at 10p it is likely to have been sitting for a long time uncared for.

Lucky you-- I do like pernettya but can't grow them in my solid clay-- do you need two for berries Moongrower?

Nope self fertile. Of course those blamed botanists now lump them in with Gaultheria just to confuse us all!

What a bargain. It is almost impossible to kill so should survive. I find mine sends out runners so beware and cut them back to the parent plant. Maybe they should be yanked off as you would do with roses. Maybe somebody can enlighten us. The runners are suitable to give away as they do act just like their parent plant.

We cut the runners off and pot up for sales tables at plant shows. Always sell well.

Thank you for that info Mg I am always surprised at how expensive these plantsare considering how easy they are to propagate from runners.

Me too, they shouldn't be so expensive all things considered.

Pamg although you have clay under your 5" of top soil you could dig a hole 12" square. Fill it with compost and or top soil and you will have enough ground for the plant to survive until it meets the clay. By that time it will be strong enough to cope with whatever it finds. I have never dug up a mature plant so cannot say if it has a tap root but the runners run just under the surface of the soil. When planting I always use bonemeal to give the plant a chance to put down good roots before it has to cope with giving a show on top.


Gardening Answers Knowledgebase

Plant Answer Line Question

What specific requirements are needed to germinate Gaultheria procumbens in soilless media?
Any tips on seed stratification, cultural advice, etc., etc.?

Answer:

The information below comes from the website of Plants for a Future:

"The seed requires a period of cold stratification. Pre-chill for 4-10 weeks and then surface sow in a lime-free compost in a shady part of the greenhouse and keep the compost moist. The seed usually germinates well, usually within 1- 2 months at 20 c, but the seedlings are liable to damp off. It is important to water them with care and to ensure that they get plenty of ventilation. Watering them with a garlic infusion can also help to prevent damping off. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are about 25mm tall, and grow them in light shade in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out in late spring or early summer. The seedlings are susceptible to spring frosts so might need some protection for their first few years outdoors. The leaves remain very small for the first few years. If you want to grow from cuttings, use half-ripe wood 3-6cm long, and in July/August place in a frame in a shady position. They form roots in late summer or spring. A good percentage usually take. Division can be carried out at almost any time of the year, but works best in the spring just before new growth begins. Very easy, larger clumps can be replanted directly into their permanent positions, though it is best to pot up smaller clumps and grow them in a cold frame until they are rooting well. Plant them out in the spring."

I consulted the book, Seeds of Woody Plants in North America by James A. Young (Dioscorides Press, 1992, rev.ed.), and the general information on Gaultheria states that cold dry storage will help maintain seed viability. G. procumbens has 6800 seeds per gram. Seeds are initially dormant and prechilling is needed for germination (from 30-120 days with a variety of substrata). Salal (G. shallon) seeds appear to require light for germination. This resource says that G. procumbens seeds should be sown in the fall.

Plant Answer Line Question

I was wondering if you could figure out if there is a difference between Gaultheria mucronata and Pernettya mucronata. Are they the same plant that had a name change? Are they different? I had thought that P. mucronata had both male and female plants--could you confirm that?

Answer:

Here is the Pernettya mucronata listing, and here is the Gaultheria mucronata listing, both from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Taxonomy database, showing that the two names are synonyms.

"Often known as pernettya, and less commonly as prickly heath, for many years this plant was placed in the genus Pernettya. This lasted until it was recognized that all members of the genus Pernettya were genetically indistinguishable from Gaultheria. As I mentioned in a previous entry, modern taxonomy suggests that nomenclature should reflect evolutionary relationships, so the names of all Pernettya species were changed in accordance with the evidence, and transferred to Gaultheria."

Just to make things still more complicated, there is also x Gaulnettya.

There are both male and female plants. See Plants for A Future's page about this plant.

Additional information from a local gardener's web site.

Didn't find an answer to your question? Ask us directly!


Pernettya Plant Care - Learn How To Grow A Pernettya Bush - garden

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Pernettya Plant Care - Learn How To Grow A Pernettya Bush - garden

North Yorkshire, United Kingdom

Does a male pernettya have berries? I bought a female in full berry a few weeks ago and then noticed a pernettya plant in a garden centre that had 'male plant' sticker on the pot. It has much smaller berries on it. I don't want to plant it if its another female.

Answers

Male plants never have berries. The berries are the fruits of the plant and contain seeds. They grow from an ovule which is the female part of the plant. The male flowers have stamens which produce pollen and therefore can never grow berries.
Most flowers have both female and male parts in the same flower but sometimes they form on different plants, like Pernettya.
If the plant you saw had 'smaller berries' I wonder if those could actually be the buds of the male flowers that have not opened yet ?

as Hywel says the male wont have berries. what you are seeing could well be flower buds or the remains of the male flowers. Though usually they just drop off so I think next years flowers the most likely.

Hello. I have an update on this plant. I contacted the garden centres plant manager as my plant didn't have a care label just the sticker saying male plant. It turns out that this is a hermaphrodite ( both male and female) called Bells Seedling. The male berries are sterile in that they don't have seeds whereas the female ( my existing plant) berries have seeds. ( I have checked my plants and this is true), so planting them near each other should result in berries next winter. Here's hoping.
Happy Christmas one and all.


Perennial Plants for Damp Soil Conditions

As with the shrubs mentioned above for damp conditions, most of these perennials will have been seen in 'normal' garden border situations. Basically because most gardens have 'normal' soil conditions. Nevertheless, the ones listed below. are quite happy in damp soil conditions. Many of them originate from damp woodlands and stream banks. A few are happy waterlogged, but for the most part simply damp that dries out from time to time.

  • Aconitum - Monk's Hood
  • Acorus calamus Variegata - Often mistaken for an Iris with similar linear strap leaves - but golden striped (SE)
  • Astilbe - does really well in damp conditions
  • Anemone japonica - one of the most colourful plants for damp soil - bat can be invasive
  • Bergenia (E)
  • Brunnera - similar to Myosotis. Blue flowers show up well in this situation.
  • Caltha palustris - the Marsh Marigold or Marsh Buttercup. The common name gives the clue that it is a good plant for damp soils - It is also a good plant for boggy areas.
  • Canna Lilies are superb in damp - though not fully winter hardy in UK. Often see them growing alongside water's edge in Thailand.
  • Coreopsis
  • Convallaria - Lily of the vallety. Very happy in damp shade.
  • Crocosmia - Montbretia as was. Will not be happy if permanently waterlogged, but ok in damp.
  • Digitalis - Foxgloves. Normally seen in dry woodlands, but will grow well in the damp.
  • Echinacea - The Coneflower. Damp or dry
  • Eranthis hyemalis. Good at water's edge as long as nor permanently flooded.
  • Erythronium types - The dog's tooth violets.
  • Eryngium - the sea Holly
  • Euphatorium. Will grow well in boggy conditions. Very happy plants in boggy areas in fact -
  • Euphorbia palustris types - Spurge
  • Filipendula ulmaria and others
  • Geranium cultivars G. Ann Folkard, and most others.
  • Gaultheria. Damp and shady is fine for these evergreens
  • Hemerocallis - Day lily. Mentioned above as a superb moisture lover.
  • Heuchera. Damp and shaded as well as dry and sunny.
  • Hosta - good showy foliage plant for damp areas
  • Iris sibirica - ensata - Good at the water's edge or as a suitable plant for boggy areas.
  • Kniphofia - The Red Hot Poker
  • Ligularia. Happy at water's edge so damp conditions no problem.
  • Lobelia cardinalis types. Have photographed these, year after year in boggy conditions.
  • Lysimachia nummularia. Not to be waterlogged, but enjpoys a damp spot.
  • Lythrum salicara. Happy when quite damp - but loves the sun also.
  • Polygonum - or Persicaria as now is.
  • Pulmonaria - Lungwort - quite happy in damp woodland.
  • Ranunculus. Moisture lover
  • Rogersia best in damp moist soil.
  • Salvia - Hardy types. Happy in moist soil - as well as dry areas.
  • Thalictrum
  • Tiarella cordifolia - The foam flower
  • Tricyrtus formosana - The Toad Lily
  • Zantedeschia. These are happy in water - so damp soil no problem. Enjoys full sun, but ok with light shade.


Ericaceous lime hating plants

What are ericaceous plants?

Ericaceous plants are plants that don’t like growing in soils that contain lime. They are also known as ‘acid lovers’ or ‘lime haters’. This means they won’t grow well in soils that have a high pH - such soils are referred to as alkaline. Ericaceous plants include Rhododendron, Camellia, Azalea, Pieris, summer-flowering heathers (calluna) and even Japanese maples (Acer) among others. This also applies to Blueberries.

If you try to grow ericaceous plants in alkaline or limey soils, they produce yellow leaves. This is a condition known as lime-induced chlorosis, where they don’t grow or flower well and usually, finally die. The main reason for this is that they need plenty of iron and other soil nutrients that become insoluble or ‘locked up’ in the soil at high pH, so the plants can’t absorb them.

If your soil is alkaline, you could try digging a large hole, lining it with plastic sheeting, making some drainage holes in the plastic, and then filling with a lime-free soil or ericaceous compost. However, this rarely works well and is a bit of a risk.

What is ericaceous compost?

Ericaceous compost is an acidic compost suited to growing lime-hating plants such as rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, calluna and various other acid-loving plants. The meaning of the word ‘ericaceous’ directly relates to the definition of plants in the Ericaceae family.

Grow ericaceous plants in containers

It is much better and easier to grow ericaceous plants in large pots filled with ericaceous (lime free) compost. Growing ericaceous plants in containers also allows you to grow them in the right place in the garden. Most of the plants listed (apart from calluna and blueberries) prefer a position in light shade or out of direct sunlight - especially early morning sunlight, which can cause the flower buds and flowers to turn brown and drop off.

Good feeding is the key

The other thing you need to ensure for fabulous, healthy growth is to feed the plants with a suitable fertiliser. Whereas many plants can be fed with a general-purpose feed, ericaceous plants really do much better if fed with a specific ericaceous plant feed. These contain all the specific nutrients needed for great green leaves and masses of fabulous flowers.

This can either be a granular feed or a liquid feed - whichever you prefer. Continuous release feeds are perfect for those who lack time to feed regularly as they feed for up to 6 months from 1 application. Liquid feeds are more suited to those who love the routine of regular feeding.

Because Rhododendrons, Azaleas and Camellias set their flower buds from June to August, it is essential to keep them well fed during this period, as well as feeding in spring.

Water ericaceous plants well, too

Because most ericaceous plants - especially rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and heathers - are shallow rooted, they are prone to drying out during prolonged dry periods. So it is very important to keep the soil or compost moist. This is particularly important during the flower bud setting period in summer if the soil or compost is allowed to dry out at this time bud set can fail. So water plants weekly during dry periods and mulch the soil well to preserve moisture.

Ericaceous plants and other acid lovers

Plants, like rhododendrons, are classed as ericaceous and have to be in completely ericaceous soil. Others are acid loving and prefer to grow in an acidic soil but can tolerate a slightly more alkaline soil than ericaceous plants.


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