- This account presents information on all aspects of the biology of Gunnera tinctoria (Molina) Mirb. (G. chilensis Lam.; G. scabra Ruix & Pav.; G. pilosa Kunth) that are relevant to understanding its ecological characteristics and behaviour. The main topics are presented within the standard framework of the Biological Flora of the British Isles: distribution, habitat, communities, responses to biotic factors, responses to environment, structure and physiology, phenology, floral and seed characters, herbivores and disease, history and conservation.
- Gunnera tinctoria is a gynomonoecious, clonal, perennial herb that is naturalized in parts of Britain, becoming invasive in parts of Ireland and, more recently, Scotland. It occurs where winter temperatures are mild, and precipitation and humidity are high. Gunnera tinctoria is native to South America, predominantly in the Andean region of Chile and Colombia, and probably in parts of Argentina, ranging from sea level to c. 2000 m a.s.l.
- Typical habitats in Britain and Ireland include stream and river banks, lake and pond margins, coastal cliffs, as well as disturbed areas, such as roadsides, quarries and ditches. In its native range it occurs predominantly on the banks of rivers and streams, on coastal cliffs and within canopy gaps or at the margins of temperate-humid rain forests.
- Gunnera tinctoria occurs on a variety of substrates, mainly on alluvial or colluvial soils derived from volcanic material or on thin gley soils of marine origin. In Ireland, it occurs naturally on soils with a pH ranging from 4.6 to 6.2 and has been cultivated in soils with a pH up to 7. Soil moisture content and soil organic matter vary greatly, although it rarely colonizes highly organic soils such as peat. It is susceptible to even mild water deficits at all stages of development, and its seedlings are also sensitive to waterlogged conditions.
- Gunnera tinctoria produces large numbers of seeds and also spreads clonally, by a horizontal rhizome system. It is wind pollinated, although insect pollination has been reported in New Zealand. Seeds are likely to be predominantly water and/or bird dispersed. In its invasive range, it can form a large and persistent soil seed bank. Recruitment from seeds seems to be important for its initial establishment, while vegetative propagation is the main means of expansion, leading to dense clonal stands. Long-distance seed dispersal seems to be central to the colonization of new areas, although the transport of vegetative propagules may also be important.
- Gunnera tinctoria is a strong competitor in its invasive range, particularly in wet, humid environments. Its competitive ability arises from its large stature, the persistence of its seeds and rhizomes and a capacity for fixing nitrogen through a unique intracellular symbiosis with cyanobacteria (Nostoc) that may be particularly important for supporting the rapid growth of established plants early in the spring.