Plant Collector: Streptocarpus

Streptocarpus hybrids - woodland bedding for mild climates

Streptocarpus hybrids – woodland bedding for mild climates

Not much shouts “mild climate” louder than using streptocarpus as bedding plants in shaded areas of the garden. That is because they are seen as conservatory plants in the temperate gardening world and few think to use them outdoors. They won’t take frost or very damp conditions, but they can withstand cooler temperatures.

The flowers are what is described as salver-shaped and sit above the foliage, usually in clusters. These will be hybrids, not the original species which grow in shady spots throughout quite large parts of Africa. A distinctive characteristic is the thin, spiral seed heads. Brittle leaves can get damaged easily, as well as snapping off but they also root easily from leaf cuttings so try replanting entire broken leaves. The root system is small and shallow, which means that it is not difficult to lift and divide established plants.

In a garden situation, we don’t get the quality blooms that are possible under cover but we do get months of flowering. If you don’t have a frost free, shaded garden position, these are still worthwhile plants to try indoors but keep them out of full sun.

Streptocarpus belong to the Gesneriaceae family. The best known members of this family are probably the touchy but very pretty African violets which are widely sold as house plants in this country. You may also recognise a similarity to what we often refer to as gloxinias – though it appears that the common gloxinias are not. Not gloxinias, I mean. They are more likely Sinningia speciosum, which I am unlikely to remember.
First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.