Getting Episcias to Bloom

Question:  I love Episcias.  Mine seem to grow really well.  They produce lots of leaves and look healthy, but never seem to bloom.  Are they difficult plants to get to bloom, or am I doing something wrong?

Answer:  Most people think that episcias are difficult plants to get to bloom.  Even the best growers often have problems getting them to bloom well–it seems that most episcias seen in shows are in thenonblooming classes.  This is unfortunate, since they are actually very free and constant-flowering plants.  Yes, there leaves alone are usually beautiful enough, but why not have the leaves and the bloom?  The secret is not allowing them to produce too many stolons, or runners.  A few of the species can be stubborn, but most varieties can be kept in almost constant heavy bloom with good culture and regular pruning.

The basic logic is simple.  All plants have two means of reproduction.  They can either do this vegetatively by producing suckers, rhizomes, tubers or, in the case of episcia, stolons.  These stolons can be rooted, producing additional plants and, so long as it can successfully reproduce itself this way, it will continue to produce them and not bother to flower.  The plant will try to reproduce itself sexually, producing flowers that might be pollinated and produce see, only if other, easier, means of reproduction aren’t possible.  The lesson: lots of stolons means few flowers.  This shouldn’t be surprising, since we’ve all been trained to remove “suckers” (the small crowns growing beneath the leaves) from our violets.  Doing so not only improves appearance, but encourages the plant to bloom.  Also, mature violets that have begun to bloom tend to produce far fewer suckers than immature plants that have yet to bloom.  Your violet has to, if it wants to produce more or its kind.  Exhibitors also know that violets that are disbudded (not allowed to bloom) tend to sucker more–trying to reproduce vegetatively since it’s not being allowed to sexually.

Apply the same rules to your episcias that you apply to your violets.  Here’s what we do, and we always have lots of episcias  in bloom–always let the crown mature and set buds before allowing stolons to grow.  For a young plant, this means growing it as a single crown until you see flower buds.  At this point, you can allow the plant to produce stolons.  Let each of these (secondary) crowns mature and produce buds before you let them produce even more stolons, and so on.  If this is done, you eventually can have a large plant, with lots of fully-developed crowns, each producing lots of blooms.  Few things are more spectacular than a mature, well-grown episcia in full bloom.

Common Versus Botanical Names

Question:  Do you grow “gold fish plants” or “lipstick vines”?

Answer:  We do, but that’s not the reason we’ve chose this question to answer.  This is a very frequently asked question, both at the shop and by those calling us.  We’ve chose this to illustrate the importance of using the botanical names of plants.  It’s true that we don’t follow this rule when we call a Saintpaulia by its common name, African violet.  Fortunately, “African violet” is so commonly used and so universally understood to identify Saintpaulia, that there’s almost never any confusion about what one is referring to.  Unfortunately, this is often not the case when referring to other members of the gesneriad family.

What one may see identified as a “goldfish plant” at one garden center is identified differently at another.  Keep in mind that most retailers are interested in selling you plants, not educating.  It’s quite likely that few of those working at the garden center of “X-Mart” even know what they are selling, common name or otherwise.  They realize that common names are far less intimidating and more consumer-friendly than botanical names.  Unfortunately, often because they don’t know any better (or care), there is no real effort to use the same common name on the same plants sold by different retailers.  What you saw identified as a “goldfish plant” at one retailer may have been labeled a “dolphin plant” at another (only yesterday a customer at the shop had this very problem).  Why not simply call the plant a Columnea, the correct botanical name of what most likely is being referred to?  A Columnea, is always a Columnea (pronounced “koe-lum-nee-ah”)–but sometimes a “goldfish plant” is actually something else, like a Nematanthus orAeschynanthus, two other gesneriads usually grown as basket plants and with blooms of the same colors.

Yes, some botanical names can seem a bit intimidating at first, but using them ensures that you get the plant that you are looking for, not what the seller guesses you are looking for.  Besides, when you think about it, are they really any harder to pronounce than the names of some people you know, or things like “cellular” phones or “flourescent” lights, words that you probably say without hesitation?

Proper Pot Size for Sinningias


Question:  What size pot sould I use for my Sinningia?

Answer:  The rule of thumb is much the same as for other plants.  Determin pot size by the size of the root system, not the plant.  Unlike violets, sinningia are tuberous, meaning the growth is produced from a potato-like tuber beneath (or at) the soil level.  Use a pot one size larger than the diameter of the tuber and its surrounding root system.  A speciosa hybrid, with a 2 inch tuber, for example, can be grown in a 3 or 4 inch pot, depending upon the size of the root system.

An advantage of being tuberous is that the tuber provides the grower some “insuruance” for his or her neglect.  Though you may have “killed” the plant, so long as the tuber remains healthy, it will produce new growth, given enough time and proper care.  Tubers are nature’s means for coping with periods of drought and extreme conditions.  However, like violets and other fibrous-rooted plants, sinningias can be killed.  One way to do this is by rotting the tuber by overwatering and/or overpotting.  Use a light, porous, soil mix, don’t use an overly large pot, and avoid keeping the soil constantly soggy.  If constantly wet soil can’t be avoided, try planting the tuber at, or slightly above, the soil line.

Rhizomatous Plant: Can it Resprout?

Question:  I have a Gloxinia erinoides ‘Polo Polo’ which I planted in a terrarium.  It has only one leaf left alive and tiny green and white things on the otherwise naked upright stems.  One stem has nothing left at all.  Do you think the plant will come back from its roots?  It seems barely alive.

Answer:  The little “green and white things” are actually rhizomes.  All Gloxinia are rhizomatous plants (Sinningia which are often mistakenly called gloxinia are tuberous), and this is their way of reproducing easily.  So long as the plant, or its rhizomes, remain alive, they will eventually develop into new growth.  The high humidity in your terrarium also happens to be conducive to producint rhizomes above the soil.  Just let the plant resprout and grow out.  Keep it moist, but not soggy–you don’t want to rot the rhizomes.  Rhizomatous plants like this one tend to be well-suited to survival and reproduction.  Each one of those tiny “scales” that you see on the rhizomes has the potential for becoming and individual plant!  If anything, the plant you are concerned about surviving may very well be, in time, the dominant plant in your terrarium!

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