There is so much variety in the plant world. You can think you know a plant only to find out that there are a whole host of different species and varieties that you knew nothing about.
I learned this lesson with streptocarpus. While I’d never grown this plant, I knew about it. I’d seen lots of pictures of this member of the Gesneriad family in various gardening books. The streptocarpus that I knew was a houseplant with long leaves that grow in a rosette. The flowers are tubular, have 5 lobes and are an inch or more in diameter. They come in a rainbow of colors, many with unique variegation. In my mind, this was a streptocarpus.
Last Mother’s Day I was working at a florist shop and encountered a plant I’d never seen before. The leaves were oval and covered with fuzz. The plant was growing as a hanging basket where the multi-branching stems could spill over the side of the pot. It was covered with lavender blossoms that were tubular in shape with 5 lobes and about 1/2″ in diameter. I checked the label to see what it was and saw that it was labeled “Streptocarpus.” While the flowers looked similar, that plant was very different from what I thought was a streptocarpus.
Since that time I’ve learned that both of these plants are of the genus Streptocarpus. The houseplant with long leaves that grow in a cluster with blossoms rising above them is Streptocarpus x hybridus, a streptocarpus hybrid. This is a somewhat unusual plant here in the states but in Europe it’s a common houseplant.
The other plant which is grown in hanging baskets and blossoms in shades of lavender and white is Streptocarpus saxorum. While the leaves and the growth habit of these two plants is very different, the flowers have a similar morphology. They’re definitely related even if they are different.
Last year I grew Streptocarpus saxorum in a hanging basket located on a porch which was shaded by a large oak tree. I was very impressed with this plant. It grew well and flowered throughout the summer. I also liked the fact that when the flowers died, they fell off cleanly so there was no need to dead-head the plant or do any “grooming” to keep it looking good. At the time I thought this was an outdoor plant so when the cold weather came, I threw it out. I now know that this streptocarpus makes a good houseplant as well and can be propagated with stem cuttings. This year I’m growing it again and come late summer, I’ll be taking some cuttings in order to have it as a houseplant in the winter.
I recently found a streptocarpus hybrid in a local garden center and am growing it as a houseplant. They say that if you can grow an african violet, you can grow a streptocarpus. We’ll see if this is true. I do find the blooms very interesting and the long leaves are unlike any other houseplant that I’m growing. Time alone will tell how this plant performs for me.
This all just goes to show that there’s always more to learn about plants. I thought I knew what a streptocarpus was but my knowledge was far too limited. Who knows what other plants will surprise me with their diversity and variety?!