Common name: Chilean guava, murta
Ugni molinae is a shrub native to Chile and southern Argentina. Its natural habitat is the Valdivian temperate rainforest. U. molinae is in the same botanical family as guava, the Myrtle family or Myrtaceae. Its Spanish name is murta, and its Mapuche name is Uni.
U. molinae, like other members of the Myrtle family, has small, dark green, glossy foliage that has a spicy scent when crushed. Its flowers, which bloom in late spring, are drooping, bell-shaped, and white tinged with pink. These flowers are also fragrant, reminding people of cotton candy and wild strawberries. The fruit which follows is a small, ruby red berry about the size of a blueberry or a cranberry. It is edible fresh, or made into jam, cakes, or eaten dried. In Chile there is a dessert called murta con membrillo, a pudding made with U. molinae berries.
U. molinae was first described by Juan Ignacio Molina, a Chilean Jesuit priest and botanist in 1782. The specific epithet is in his honour. The shrub was introduced to England in 1844 by botanist and plant collector William Lobb. U. molinae berries became Queen Victoria's favourite fruit, especially made into jam.
U. molinae is not fussy about soil, but it needs a sunny spot that is sheltered. It doesn't like wind damage. Ugni molinae can be found in Bed 59A of the Chilean Garden. Three shrubs were planted there in 2017.
Text and photos by Kumi Sutcliffe