Colorful Gesneriads (AFRICAN VIOLETS)

For Your Home




          A few years ago I wrote an article on African violets.  Since that time, I have continued growing violets, but have also became interested in other members of the family, the gesneriads.  Currently many of these beauties are in full bloom, and have been for most of the winter months.  Not only do these plants have the capability to be in flower the year round but many also display beautiful, ornamental foliage.  Here follows a run down of a few of my favorites that you can easily grow in your home.



          Also known as Cape Primrose or the Poor Man’s Orchid, this beauty is probably my favorite in the gesneriad family.  The color palate available is nothing short of remarkable, with blossoms in shades of reds, purples, pinks, blues, whites, lavender, two and three tones, colors as rich as an egg plant and now even yellow.  The plant grows large, strap-like leaves that can grow as large as 2 feet long.  Some of the heavily flowering types can have 200 or more open blossoms at once.  Light and watering are the keys to growing these beauties.  Bright light is essential for profuse flowering.  Mine are grown under cool-white lights, approximately 10” away from the top of the plants.  They also get a heavy dose of natural light as the stands are 8 feet away from a south facing window.  DO NOT overwater; I give mine 3 ounces of water about every third day.  I add 1/8th teaspoon per gallon 20-20-20 all purpose water soluble fertilizer at ever watering, with an occasional top flush of plain water to remove fertilizer salt build-up.  The Streptocarpus can completely wilt down, flowers and all, and be revived by adding a small amount of water.  Too much water and the plant will collapse.  It is best to let them dry slightly between watering.  Breeders are developing miniature types that are much easier to maintain and enjoy for those who have limited space.


          Some of you may be familiar with EPISCIA’S, also known as Flame Violets.  These are grown primarily for their foliage, but they do produce lovely flowers as well.  Given a warm, sunny environment with good humidity they can make beautiful hanging baskets sending stolons out that cascade to the floor.  I enjoy the varieties with pink foliage, and grow most in a terrarium setting.  Pink Dreams, Pink Smoke, Peppermint Brocade and Cleopatra are a few that I grow with gorgeous pink foliage mixed with soft cream and white.  I start new plants by removing a stolon and rooting it in a light soil.  I have an old aquarium lined with sphagnum moss, and I set the pots in there which keeps them warm and humid while the stolons are taking root.


          Have you ever heard of a PETROCOSMEA?  These gems grow with very little effort, sending out leaves that grow in a symmetrical pattern much like a hairy, hen and chicks plant!  The foliage is fuzzy on some like ‘Fluffer Nutter’ and smooth on others like the species minor.  They do flower seasonally; most have tiny purple flowers on wirely stems, held above the “flat as a pancake” rosette of leaves.  I water mine sparingly, making sure to allow them to dry slightly between watering.  They enjoy diffused light, and like all of my gesneriads, are watered with 1/8th teaspoon per gallon of water of 20-20-20 all purpose, water soluble fertilizer.


          SINNINGIA’S are beautiful plants and many are small enough to work well for those who want flowering plants but have limited space.  Again, these need bright light to produce flowers.  Sinningia’s grow from tubers, which can occasionally go dormant.  They can easily be propagated by taking stem cuttings when the tuber is beginning to send out new growth.  The plant we commonly call florist’s Gloxinia is actually a sinningia.  I have one called ‘Double Brocade’ that I grew from seed many years ago.  I gave it to a friend, who lets me use her light garden.  This plant will produce double purple flowers for a couple of months, and then gradually wither away until no foliage is left.  After a month or two of rest, the tuber wakes up and the growth cycle starts fresh.  I also grow some of the smaller Sinningia’s which get no larger than 3 or 4” tall and bloom for several months.  Gabrielle’s Horn’ is a personal favorite with its red blossoms and purple throat.


          KOHLERIA’S with their fuzzy leaves, grow from scaly rhizomes and many times have dark foliage.  These too need bright light for compact growth and flowering.  After this plant has bloomed profusely you can gradually withhold water and allow it to go dormant.  This will encourage the plant to produce rhizomes which can be harvested and planted fresh to start your plant over.  Kohleria come in shades of orange, red, pink, yellow and even lime green.  Many of the small tubular flowers have tiny spots throughout the blossom and can go on flowering for months.

          There are many, many more members of this interesting family that one can have great success with in an indoor setting.  The Lincoln African Violet Society will hold its spring show on April 2nd at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church on 84th and Pioneers Blvd. here in Lincoln.  Many of the above mentioned plants will be on display from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm.  Hope to see you there.

Copyright 2011