Giant Rhubarb (Gunnera Manicata)

Samantha PillingThe Gardens

Giant Rhubarb (Gunnera Manicata)

Here in the grounds of Grim’s Dyke, we have an amazing specimen plant that can grow up to 2.5 metres tall, with a spread of up to 4 metres. Commonly known as the Giant Rhubarb, this plant adorned many a stately garden – and is it any wonder? This prehistoric-looking plant cuts and imposing figure in any large garden, with its ginormous leaves and unusual flowers – and it proved irresistible to the Victorians.

The Gunnera Manicata is actually native to the Serra do Mar mountains of Brazil, but it is frequently seen on the stretch of land between Brazil and Colombia. It is thought to have been brought over to the UK by the Belgium horticulturist JJ Linden, who was invited by the Belgian government, to explore Latin America in the 1830’s. He had a particular fascination with orchids, but gathered many plant specimens on his travels, for horticultural purposes.

This spectacular herbaceous perennial plant was named after a Norwegian bishop and naturalist from the 1700’s, Johan Ernst Gunnera. The species of plant itself is thought to be about 150 million years old. Traditionally, it is used by the Brazilians as a cure for sexually transmitted diseases.

This giant plant flowers during July and August, producing 1m high erect panicles of tiny red-green flowers, amid the spiny stemmed leaves – leaves that can easily grow to over a metre in diameter and with a spread of up to 10 feet.

For such a large plant, it’s actually a gentle giant. Its prone to frost damage, so you need to protect the growth buds, by pilling a mound of dead leaves and stems over them, during the autumn and winter months. However, it is generally pest and disease free. It also likes damp condition, preferably sheltered, in full or partial sunlight. This is why the Victorian architects often planted it near ponds and lakes – and why it can still be seen in many a stately ground (including here, at Grim’s Dyke!), to this day.

Come and see our Gunnera Manicata – in the Sunken Rose Garden besides the steps.

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