40-50 species, all but a few from the southern hemisphere, particularly Australasia, South America and South Africa. To most rock gardeners the gunneras are waterside perennials of giant and statuesque proportions. The genus does, however, contain a number of mainly small mat-formers of modest charm. Some are rhizomatous, others spread additionally by short runners. The mainly thick-textured, rosetted leaves are rounded to ovate or oblong and sometimes lobed. In some species they are greyish or tinted bronze or purple. The insignificant greenish or yellowish flowers may or may not have a few petals. They are carried in short spikes or panicles sometimes hidden by the leaves. As a rule they are unisexual with male and female spikes on the same or separate plants, but hermaphrodite flowers may also be present. The berry-like fruits (technically drupes) turn yellow, red or white and in some species they are quite showy.
All species make unusual pan plants for the alpine house and can also be grown in the moister part of the rock garden. Because they differ so much from their giant relatives they make an interesting talking point. Most are not reliably hardy outside if temperatures drop below about -10°C. They thrive best in moist, but not necessarily wet acid to neutral soil, but some lime is tolerated. For container culture a compost largely of humus mixed with one third part coarse sand or fine grit is ideal. Propagation is by division in late summer or spring, or by seed when ripe, kept in a cold frame. (All are perennial, evergreen and from New Zealand unless stated otherwise)