I cannot believe that I missed it. There was an African violet show at the Holiday Inn a couple of weeks ago. I wish I had seen some publicity on it because I would have gone, not because of the violets, but because of the other plants in that family of gesneriads. I would guess that they were showing goldfish plants and cape primroses and dauphin violets and episcias. This is a wonderful group of plants. Most are very similar to our common African violet in their needs but are totally different in their looks. Let’s look at some of them.
I am certain that most of the readers of this column have been gifted more than one gloxinia over the years. It is that winter/spring house plant with enormously large, fleshy leaves that has bold, trumpet-shaped flowers. Flower colors range from bright purple and lavender to reds and pinks. Some of the colors are solid and others are dotted or striped. Many of the flowers have a white edging.
This is what I like to call a “temporary” flowering houseplant. Many folks save the bulb and restart it after a resting period. It just isn’t worth the effort. In many cases in the following season, the plant will be neither as vigorous nor beautiful as when you first got it. Older folks might remember that this plant grew from a tuber and you could get it growing year after year. These days the plants are grown from seed, and it takes two or three seasons for that tuber to develop. Why? Breeders have developed a plant that can be grown much more rapidly and more easily shipped. All of this keeps the price to the consumer down.
Gloxinias like bright, filtered sunlight. At this time of year, give them as much light as they can get. They do not like their soil to be dried out, but hate sitting in water. This is one of those plants to take to the sink, and pour water on the soil — but not on the leaves.
Another of my favorite gesneriads is the cape primrose. During the '80s and early '90s it was a very popular houseplant. It would come in a 5-inch pot. Leaves were often 7 to 10 inches long and a very striking dark green. From the center, the plant would throw up gorgeous bell-shaped blooms, each on its own slender stalk. This plant could be kept from season to season and would flower throughout the year. It came in a wide range of colors, from white through the pinks and into reds. I liked the lavender colors and there were deep purples, too. I do remember a gentleman walking into the store one day who wanted something different for his wife who was in the hospital. I held up a beautiful plant of streptocarpus. He asked the name. I told him. He said, “She already has a disease and I do not want to bring her another.”
So much for the gloxinia. I want to spend the rest of my words today on another relative of the African violet, one of my favorite colored leaf plants: the episcia, sometimes called the flame violet. There are, perhaps, only about eight species of this plant, but hundreds of varieties. My favorite of all is called chocolate soldier episcia. It has chocolate-colored foliage with dark pink veins. And, best of all, it is in constant bloom with inch-long, trumpet-shaped blooms in bright orange. This is one striking plant!
Again, an easy-to-grow houseplant, as are most gesneriads if you give them bright filtered light, keep the soil moist, don’t let them sit in water and carefully remove any dead or dying leaves. Be sure to keep them out of drafts. We will continue the gesneriad story next week.