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Fuchsia ‘Army Nurse’: A Story of Strength and Beauty

Fuchsia ‘Army Nurse’: A Story of Strength and Beauty

— By COL (Ret.) Eileen B. Malone

Over the past few years, several Army nurses have discovered a beautiful plant named for us – Fuchsia ‘Army Nurse.’ The tag that arrived with the plants I bought in 2009 from the Big Dipper Farm in Oregon, described: “A profusion of red flowers with violet corollas grace this hardy fuchsia from early summer until hard frost. A real trooper, with excellent form and performance. Hummingbirds galore.” But alas, there was no information about the provenance of its name. Intrigued, I set out to discover why this cultivar was named ‘Army Nurse.’

Fuchsia ‘Army Nurse’: A Story of Strength and Beauty Internet sources revealed that Fuchsia ‘Army Nurse’ was registered in 1947 by Raymond Hodges (1891-1980) of Pacific Grove, California who, with his wife Laura Merle Gray Hodges (1901-1993), hybridized over 68 fuchsia cultivars. Since none of the internet sources explained the name, I contacted  the American Fuchsia Society to see if they knew the reason. Ms. Janice J. Bergquist, Fuchsia Consultant for the society in Vallejo, California graciously contacted a society member who knew the Hodges. This member said that there had never been a mention of Mrs. Hodges being an Army nurse or anyone they knew who had served as an Army nurse. Ms. Bergquist said that it was a common practice to name many items and plants with a patriotic title after World War II. However, ‘Army Nurse’ is the only one that the Hodges hybridized with such a specific military tie. It seemed so reasonable to imagine that they named this fuchsia to honor an Army nurse – the question was, who?

Many hours were spent trying to establish a connection between the Hodges and Army nurses using internet sources. Thinking that perhaps Mr. Hodges had been wounded in war (more likely WW I, given his age) and cared for by an Army nurse, LTC Cheryl Capers, the former Army Nurse Corps Historian visited the National Archives in January 2010 to see if either Ray or Laura Merle Hodges had military service, but no record could be found. So the search was expanded. An article was published in the December 2010 Army Nurse Corps Association’s (ANCA) newsletter, The Connection, which invited all ANCA members with genealogy and gardening expertise to join in the quest to discover the reason for the name. From the information provided by Mrs. Bergquist, I knew that Mrs. Hodges had a son named Ross Smith who lived in San Diego and hoped that he might be know the story behind the naming of this fuchsia. Again, many hours were spent trying to locate a Ross Smith in the San Diego community, without success because of his common last name and the fact that I did not know his birth date. COL (Ret.) Robin Hightower’s cousin, Ann Loose, responded to the ANCA challenge and using her genealogy expertise was able to find out when Ross was born, in addition to discovering more information about the family in general. Then it was just a matter of thinking about major life events that might be captured in a database, like a high school graduation. To make a long story short, we found Ross Smith, a WWII veteran, who served with the Army Air Corps as a B-24 "Liberator" pilot in the Pacific, with the 320th Squadron ("Moby Dick") of the 90th Bomb Group ("Jolly Roger"). Ross and his wife Roberta now live in Pacific Grove, California.

Ross said that no one in the family was an Army nurse and that no one had been wounded during war and cared for by an Army Nurse (one of our many imaginings!). To Ross’ knowledge, his parents did not know any Army nurses, though he did volunteer that they owned apartment buildings near Fort Ord during the war and that perhaps some of their tenants were Army nurses. What he did remember was that this fuchsia plant was considered very strong and that was the reason given for naming it ‘Army Nurse.’ Roberta explained that it took quite a while to develop a new cultivar to make sure that it was really strong and capable of genetically maintaining its characteristics during propagation. Roberta also shared that it was common for the Hodges to name plants reflecting what was on their mind at the time or what was relevant to their family or community, which seems right when you look at the many fuchsia cultivars that they named. In a recent letter, Ross shared, “Army Nurse was always a favorite of my Step-Dad’s. I think it always represented something very special and was exemplified by the nurses themselves. It is very gratifying to know that all of Ray’s work has brought such happiness. I know he’s smiling from heaven.”

Strength and beauty are characteristics not often found together and Fuchsia ‘Army Nurse’ has both. It is interesting that when you combine the robust carmine pink of the sepals with the deep purple of the petals, you come very close to AMEDD maroon. The strength of this lovely plant ensures its continued demand by gardeners around the world, especially in Great Britain and along the American Pacific coast where the climate is ideal for growing them. Though we will never know if there was a specific Army nurse who inspired the Hodges to name this plant, Army nurses past, present and future are honored and humbled to have such a beautiful and strong plant named for them.

ANCA offers for sale a collection of prints and notecards featuring a beautiful rendering of Fuchsia Army Nurse’ by COL Malone, who is a botanical artist as well as a historian.
See the Fuchsia 'Army Nurse' Art Collection page for descriptions and the order form.