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!

African Violets in Terrariums and Vivariums

Question:  I’m considering getting some miniature African violets for my vivarium (terrarium with living creatures).  Humidity is around 75% and temperature in the mid 70’s, with moderately bright artificial light.  Would this be suitable?

Question:  In general, do all of your plants like humidity?  I do a lot of terrariums, some with more moisture than others.

Answers:  The answer depends upon the plant.  Though many appreciate the additional humidity, most do not require high humidity.  We grow very few plants under cover, with a few exceptions.  Even for plants reputed to need high humidity, like episcias, we grow without any such accommodation.  Only those growers in extremely dry climates, where the ambient humidity is quite low, might have to take extra precautions.  That said, the general rule remains: if you’re comfortable, your plants are likely to be as well.

As for growing African violets, or most gesneriads, in a terrarium, or vivarium, there’s no reason this can’t be successfully done.  All will tolerate, even appreciate, the additional humidity and, given sufficient light, they should bloom just as well.  Do keep in mind that the moist environment does mean thad dead, or dying, material will deday faster and is more likely to be the cause of problems.  Unless you really intend to let “nature take its course” and have the terrarium be self-sustaining (and maintenance free), it’s best to not completely seal the container, or otherwise allow some access to the plants and materials inside.  African violets and many other gesneriads, in particular, are blooming plants, which means spent blooms will need to be regularly removed as they appear.  Also, many gesneriads, including violets (like trailers) can be spreading plants, and can easily outgrow the limited space of a terrarium if not occassionally pruned (unless that is the appearance desired).

As for using African violets in a vivarium, with other living creatures, like frogs, for example, they should be perfectly suitable.  The plants, themselves, are not toxic, and pose no harm to anything else living in the container.  We sell many violets and other container-suitable gesneriads for use in vivariums.  We also have frogs that have taken up residence in our growing areas–they’ve found their way inside and decided they liked it here.

African Violets in a Terrarium

Question:  I was considering putting miniature violets in my 12″x20″ terrarium.  But I notice your instructions say never put them in a pot larger than 2 1/2″.  Does this mean they won’t grow well in a terrarium?

Answer:  Mini violets can be grown in a terrarium with some precautions.  A terrarium, particularly if enclosed, poses two problems for growing African violets.  First, is the problem of proper drainage of water from the soil.  In most cases, there is none.  Since violets don’t like to be kept constantly soggy, and moisture evaporates (very) slowly from a terrarium, watering must be done very carefully and only when necessary.  Using a light soil helps, though additives, like perlite, often look unsightly when the soil is visible throught the glass.  A second, related, problem is the high humidity and lack of air circulation inside a terrarium.  This makes diligent pruning and cleaning of your violet very important.  Spent blooms need to be removed the moment they begin to fade, lest they rot.  Mildew, fungus, and other disease or pests can quickly spread in such an environment if plants aren’t kept healthy and neat.  That said, if the proper precautions are taken, there is no reason that violets can’t do well grown in them

Soil Mix for a Terrarium

Question:  I use a seed-starting mix to make a terrarium.  It is extremely light without any fertilizer or moisture-retaining crystals.  Would this mix be appropriate for potting my violets too?

Answer:  If they are otherwise properly cared for, you could use almost any kind of mix, including this one.  However, this is likely not your best choice.  The problem with such “seed starting” mixes is that they are very fine, almost dust-like.  African violets (and most of the plants we grow) prefer a coarser, more porous, mix.  If you do use this mix, you’ll likely have to be more careful with your watering, since it will retain more water.  We’d certainly advise NOT to use a self-watering system, which will keep your plant constantly moist.  Such a fine mix would almost certainly lead to overwatering your violet and root rot.  You’ll also need to repot into fresh soil sooner, since the finer mix will compact and/or break-down faster than a regular potting mix.