Sunday, March 24, 2013

Gesneriads Are Great!

Sinningia 'Peridots Sand Pebbles'
I love being a member of plant societies! Why? Because, that is where I learn. I will never be the person that says, "I know everything about houseplants." I know a lot, more than the average person, but I know there is always more to learn. Much more. That is why I join societies. I'm in two African violet clubs, and the cactus and succulent society. I plan on joining an orchid society this month. Believe me, these people are passionate about their chosen plants and know more than I could ever learn. My problem is that I like (okay, am obsessed) with ALL houseplants. I try to learn as much about every plant and plant family as I can.
 A few weeks ago,  at the African violet meeting I attended, we learned about  gesneriads other than African violets. Many of these plants are grown more often for their fabulous foliage rather than their flowers. The flowers are gorgeous, but many are just not that floriferous.

Sinningia 'Peridots Sand Pebbles' tuber
Sinningias are grown from tubers and are quite easy to cultivate. Sinningia speciosa is incorrectly known as "florist gloxinia'. They are grown like African violets but do need more light to stay compact. Instead of 10-12 hours, 12-14 hours of fluorescent light daily would be better. The tubers can go dormant, and if they do, move to lower light levels and water less until new growth appears. Fertilize regularly and let them dry slightly between waterings.

Sinningia 'Peridots Darth Vader'

Sinningia 'Merry Christmas'

Petrocosmea forrestii

Petrocosmea are beautiful symmetrically growing gesneriads. To me they look like water lilies. They do flower, but it wouldn't matter to me if they didn't. The flowers resemble those of wild violets, but with better foliage. The leaves overlap each other and the entire plant is very flat.  These plants can be placed at the end of the light tubes needing less light, and on the lowest level, where it is cooler. 


Streptocarpus 'Brooklin's Bubble Gum'
Streptocarpus are some of my favorites after African violets. They are easy to grow and I love the flowers, since they look like pansies. Streptocarpus are commonly called cape primrose, as they come from the Cape of Good Hope in Africa and the foliage resembles that of the common garden primrose. These plants take the same care as African violets, but are more forgiving of drying out. It has been said,  you know it is time to water streptocarpus when they have wilted. Now, I will tell you, that isn't the best policy, but they do bounce back. A more consistent watering schedule does make for a happier, healthier plant.

This Streptocarpus flower resembles a pansy.

Streptocarpus 'Gwen'

Episcia 'Lemon Zest'

Episcia 'Kee Wee'

Episcia 'Kee Wee' leaf
Episcias have the most beautiful foliage of all the gesneriads. The flowers are pretty, but it really is all about the foliage with this group of plants. They are commonly called "flame violets" as their flowers are usually red tubular flowers. These plants need  to be placed in a bright window, or need 14 hours of fluorescent light a day. This helps keep their colors at their brightest, though too intense light can bleach their foliage. Humidity is the key to happiness with episcias. They prefer very high humidity, so they are quite often grown in terrariums. They are stoloniferous plants, meaning they send out stems with miniature plants on the ends. These can be pinned to a pot of soil to make more plants. Because of this habit, they also look good growing in hanging baskets.

Episcia 'Cleopatra'

Kohleria 'Peridots Mango Martini'
Kohlerias are grown from rhizomes. Bearded or German iris are also grown from rhizomes if that helps visualize it. These are planted horizontally, and the rhizomes or rootless stems send foliage up from the top and grow roots on the bottom side. Kohlerias can go dormant for a period of approximately 3 months and then start to grow again.

Primulina (Chirita) 'Crossroads'

Primulinas, formerly chiritas, are very easy plants to grow. I have found from first hand experience, that these plants are very adaptable. Mine is on the same light stand as my African violets and blooms well there. They can be grown at the end of the light tubes, as they need less light and on the bottom shelf, where it is cooler. Their thick, quilted leaves are quite beautiful and I've found them to be less demanding of water.

Columnea 'Orange Prince'

Columneas are beautiful plants, usually grown as hanging baskets. That is how this 'Light Prince' was growing when I purchased it. Read more about this particular plant here: .

Whether you stick with the ever-popular African violet or venture into the world of its gesneriad cousins, I think you'll find these are an easy to grow group of plants. They ask for no more than bright light, consistent water, and regular fertilizer to keep them happy, blooming, and healthy. What more could you ask for?

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