Gesneriaceae (gesneriads): A lot of our well-known house plants come from this highly diverse family. Saintpaulia (African violet), Aeschynanthus (lipstick plant), Columnea and Nematanthus (goldfish plant), and Episcia (flame violet), to name a few of the more common ones. Others that are harder to care for are Sinningia and Streptocarpus. Codonanthe is another one that I am partial to. I'm going to discuss the more common ones in this article.
|NOID Episcia||E. 'Suomi'||E. 'Alice's Aussie'|
|NOID Episcia||E. 'Blue Heaven'||E. 'Ilacina'|
Light: For the most part Gesneriads are happy with bright light. They are perfectly suited to a north facing, draft-free windowsill, a terrarium, or under grow lights. Direct sun for any extended length of time will burn their leaves. Here in Ontario I can get away with a few hours of direct morning or evening sun. Pictured to the left is a Columnea.
|Chirita 'Aiko'||Chirita 'Stardust'||Chirita 'Tamiana'|
Temperature: As a rule any temperature that is comfortable for us is good for Gesneriads; between 60F and 80F, in a place that does not get cold drafts. They appreciate a wee bit of humidity which can be produced naturally when you group a lot of plants together. Humidity can also be produced by misting the plants every other day, placing them on pebble trays, or, in the case of some miniature Sinningias, growing them in glass bowls or cups. Don't worry about it too much though, mine grow just fine and all I do is mist them occasionally. Pictured to the right is Chrysothemis pulchella.
Water: I try to use room temperature water whenever I can because nobody likes to have her feet plunged into an ice bath. Gesneriads prefer to be watered when they feel dry to the touch but don't keep them constantly wet either. I gage this by poking my finger right down in the soil. If it's dry to my first knuckle (1.5 inches) I give them a drink. I give them 1/4 strength fertilizer almost every time I water. Pictured left is Achimenes longifolia.
|Sinningia "Rio des Padres'||S. 'Deep Purple Dreaming'||Sinningia 'Pusilla'|
|Streptocarpus saxorum 'Streptocarpella'||Streptocarpus 'Dilby's Gwen'||Sinningia speciosa Florist's Gloxinia|
Soil: Growing medium should be light and airy to provide good drainage. I use a commercial soil and add plenty of extra perlite. For example, if I dump out 4 cups of bagged soil I'll add 1 cup of perlite. The type of soil you use really depends upon your location. It's damp here so I need good drainage, yet someone in Arizona might need more water retentive properties in their soil. Pictured to the right is African Violet 'Mac's Pizza Pizzacato''.
I hope this article has opened your eyes to the Gesneriads. They are easy enough to grow and with proper conditions can be almost year-round bloomers. Such a diverse family of plants, they really are worth giving a try. What more could you want in a houseplant?
A wonderful resource with over 2000 images of over 1000 members of the Gesneriad family is the Gesneriad Reference Web.
Another great source for those in the USA is The Violet Barn. I browse their website and drool over the selection at least once a week.
Please share your photos of and experiences with Gesneriads below; we'd love to hear from you!
Photos other than my own are courtesy of plantladylin and Steven. Thank you both!