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Gunnera tinctoria

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Gunnera tinctoria
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Order: Gunnerales
Family: Gunneraceae
Genus: Gunnera
G. tinctoria
Binomial name
Gunnera tinctoria

Gunnera scabra Ruiz & Pav.
Panke tinctoria Molina

Gunnera tinctoria, known as giant rhubarb,[2] Chilean rhubarb, or nalca, is a flowering plant species native to southern Chile and neighboring zones in Argentina. It is unrelated to rhubarb, as the two plants belong to different orders, but looks similar from a distance and has similar culinary uses. It is a large-leaved perennial plant that grows to more than two metres tall. It has been introduced to many parts of the world as an ornamental plant. In some countries, such as New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Ireland, it has spread from gardens and is becoming an introduced species of concern. It is known under the synonyms: Gunnera chilensis Lam. and Gunnera scabra Ruiz & Pav.


It was first described in 1782 by Juan Ignacio Molina as Panke tinctoria,[1][3] and was transferred to the genus Gunnera in 1805 by Charles-François Brisseau de Mirbel.[4][5]


Gunnera tinctoria is a giant, clump-forming herbaceous perennial. The leaves can grow up to 2.5 m across, cordate and palmate with up to 9-lobed margins.[6] The stems are covered in numerous spikes. It has erect spikes of cone-shaped inflorescences (to 1 m) from spring to early summer, with small flowers. The fruit is orange. The number of seeds is estimated from 80,000 per seedhead to 250,000 per plant.

Gunnera tinctoria flowering on the coast of Chiloé Island, Chile


Stream and roadsides.[6]


In its native Chile, where it is called nalca or pangue, it is used in a similar way to European rhubarb: after peeling, the stalks are eaten fresh or cooked into jam or cordial.[7] The leaves are used in the preparation of the traditional Chilean dish curanto. The roots are also traditionally used to tan leather and as a black dye. [8]

As an invasive species[edit]

In parts of New Zealand, Chilean rhubarb has become a recognised pest plant; in Taranaki, on the western coast of North Island, it has spread to riparian zones and riverbeds, coastal cliffs and forest margins,[9] thus placing the species on the National Pest Plant Accord. Under Section 52 and 53 of the Biosecurity Act, it is an offence in New Zealand to knowingly propagate, distribute, spread, sell or otherwise offer for possession.[10] In Great Britain, the species was popular amongst gardeners for decades, but became rather well-established, and sometimes problematic, in western districts, and appeared to be spreading.[11] In the west of Ireland, G. tinctoria is a major invasive species,[12] in particular on Achill Island and on the Corraun Peninsula, County Mayo. Its large leaves create dense shade, preventing other species from germinating or growing.

Chilean rhubarb is classified in the European Union as an invasive species of Union concern, and it is illegal to import, grow, or sell it within the EU.[13]

In the United Kingdom, the plant was classified under Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 as an invasive species. While it remained legal to cultivate privately, it was made illegal to allow the species to spread outside the bounds of one's property, or to deliberately sow it elsewhere.[14]

Chilean rhubarb on sale at a street in Puerto Varas.
Gunnera tinctoria - MHNT

Similar species[edit]

A similar species is Gunnera manicata (Brazilian giant rhubarb). This species may also be invasive.

In popular culture[edit]

In October 2019, photos of a produce vendor in Puerto Montt dressing himself in nalca leaves began circulating on Chilean social media under the name "Nalcaman".[15] Because these photos were being shared around the same time as the beginning of the 2019–20 Chilean protests, Nalcaman has since become an element of the iconography surrounding Chile's anti-government protests.[16]

In Chiloé Island, Chile


  • The blue-green alga Nostoc is a symbiont in Gunnera.[12]


  1. ^ a b "Gunnera tinctoria (Molina) Mirb. | Plants of the World Online | Kew Science". Plants of the World Online. Retrieved 2022-02-10.
  2. ^ BSBI List 2007 (xls). Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original (xls) on 2015-06-26. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
  3. ^ Molina, G.I (1782), Saggio sulla Storia Naturale del Chili del Signor Abate Giovanni Ignazio Molina, Bologna, p. 143
  4. ^ "Vascular Plants: Gunneria tinctoria". biodiversity.org.au. Retrieved 2022-02-10.
  5. ^ Mirbel, C.F.B. de (1805), Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particulaire, des Plantes Edn. 2, 10: 141  
  6. ^ a b Parnell, J. and Curtis, T. 2012. Webb's An Irish Flora Cork University Press ISBN 978-185918-4783
  7. ^ "Nalca". TasteAtlas. Retrieved 6 May 2023.
  8. ^ Charles Darwin. "Chapter XIII — Chiloe and Chonos Islands". The Voyage of the Beagle. The inhabitants eat the stalks, which are subacid, and tan leather with the roots, and prepare a black dye from them
  9. ^ Giant problems for Taranaki Archived 2007-10-19 at the Wayback Machine; especially the pictures of Gunnera tinctoria on seacliffs (p. 17)
  10. ^ Department of Conservation 2005, p. 3
  11. ^ Anon. "Giant Rhubarb, Gunnera tinctoria". NNSS species information. GB Non-native species secretariat. Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  12. ^ a b Guiry, M.D., John, D.M., Rindi, F and McCarthy, T.K. (eds) 2007. New Survey of Clare Island 6: The Freshwater and Terrestrial Algae. Royal Irish Academy. ISBN 978-1-904890-31-7
  13. ^ Anon. "List of Invasive Alien Species of Union concern". European Commission. Retrieved 18 June 2019.
  14. ^ "Gunnera Removal | Environet". Japanese Knotweed and Invasive Plant Specialists | Environet UK. Retrieved 2023-08-24.
  15. ^ 24horas.cl. "Nalcaman: El nuevo superhéroe de Puerto Montt que encantó a las redes sociales" 24horas.cl, Santiago, 4 October 2019. Retrieved on 10 February 2020.
  16. ^ The Clinic. "Fotos épicas: Todos los superhéroes que han aparecido en las protestas en Chile" The Clinic, Santiago, 6 November 2019. Retrieved on 10 February 2020.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]