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RHS Garden Rosemoor

Harlow Carr | Hyde Hall | Rosemoor | Wisley |

Plant of the Month: June

Desfontainia spinosa 'Harold Comber' at Rosemoor. Photo Stephen Record

Desfontainia spinosa 'Harold Comber'
Family: Loganiaceae

Vital statistics
Height and spread:
2m (6ft) x 2m (6ft)
Form: Evergreen shrub.
Soil: Moist, peaty, lime-free .
Aspect: Cool, dappled shade with shelter from cold, drying winds .
Hardiness: Hardy in some areas, requiring some frost protection in winter.

Desfontainia spinosa @ Rosemoor

Although planted in several sites throughout Rosemoor, the best specimen of Desfontainia spinosa 'Harold Comber' is to be found growing in the Croquet Lawn area of Lady Anne's Garden. This attractive shrub fools almost everyone into thinking it's a holly for most of the year and then, just to prove us all wrong, plays its ace card in June by producing masses of vivid red and orange bell-like flowers.


This is a genus of one species of evergreen shrub from the Andes.

It was named for René Louiche Desfontaines (1750 - 1833), a French botanist and professor at Jardin des Plantes in Paris.

It has dark, glossy, holly-like leaves and brilliant red and yellow, tubular, solitary flowers.

Desfontainia spinosa

This species was introduced by William Lobb in 1843 and again by Comber in 1925 - 26.

It is a dense, bushy, slow-growing shrub, native to Chile.

Its leaves are oval, spiny, glossy, dark green and up to 6cm (2.5in) long.

The flowers are pendant, red with yellow tips and up to 4cm (1.5in) long. They are produced from mid-summer to late autumn, followed by cherry-red fruits.

The flowers have been used to produce a yellow dye for cloth and the leaves for medicinal purposes and to make an allegedly hallucinogenic tea.

'Harold Comber' was developed by Mr Messel at Nymans before 1955. It has vermilion red flowers up to 5cm (2in) long.


The RHS Floral B Committee awarded Desfontainia spinosa an Award of Garden Merit and described it as: Slow-growing, erect, medium-sized evergreen shrub with small, spiny, holly-like dark green leaves. Flowers 4cm long, funnel-shaped, bright scarlet with a yellow mouth.


Grow in moist, peaty, lime-free soil in cool, dappled shade, with shelter from cold, drying winds.

Prune annually from mid- to late spring to maintain a good shape.

In Great Britain, the most favourable growing conditions are found on the west coast of Scotland and in Northern Ireland.

Desfontainia spinosa is generally free from pests and diseases.


Take semi-ripe cuttings in summer.