Growing Gesneriads

There are over 100 genera in the Gesneriaceae or Gesneriad family. Most are tropical plants, such as African violet and gloxinia, and are native to Africa, Asia and Central and South America. Approximately 300 species are cultivated, many as houseplants. All are excellent houseplants with showy flowers or foliage.  A few of the most common cultivated species are listed below.

General growing conditions

An African violet
African violets are often watered from the base of the container. Placing the container is a shallow saucer full of water for an hour allows the water to soak up slowly into the soil. Photo by Cynthia Haynes. 

Most gesneriads typically grow and bloom well with moderate, indirect light. They are wonderful houseplants because they do not require high levels of direct light. In fact, many species perform beautifully under fluorescent lights left on for 12-16 hours per day. High light, especially in the summer, can quickly burn or scorch the leaves.

Ideal temperatures range from 60-80 F as this mimics air temperatures in their native environment.  Air temperatures below 55 F may damage the leaves of some species. Cold water temperatures may also damage small roots, especially on African violet.

Plants should be watered with room-temperature water when the surface of the soil is dry to the touch.  While overwatering can lead to root rot, most gesneriads prefer consistently moist, organic soils.  African violets are often watered from the base of the container. Placing the container is a shallow saucer full of water for an hour allows the water to soak up slowly into the

streptocarpella
A streptocarpella is an everblooming type of gesneriads. Photo by Cynthia Haynes. 

soil. This watering technique keeps the leaves dry and prevents water spotting on the leaves. The saucer of water should be removed after an hour or two to prevent root rot.  Gesneriads also prefer high humidity.  Raising the humidity with humidifiers or pebble trays is recommended during the winter months.

These species also benefit from regular fertilizer as many bloom almost continuously indoors.  Low levels of soluble fertilizer once a month is usually sufficient for most species. 

Common Gesneriads

Common Name

Genus

Bloom Time

Bloom color

Habit

Comments

Achimenes

Achimenes

Summer

Red, pink, yellow, purple, violet, white

Upright and spreading

Scaly rhizomes often planted outdoors or in containers

Goldfish plant

Columnea

Everblooming

Red, yellow, gold

Trailing or spreading

 

Flame violet

Episcia

Everblooming

Red, orange, white

Trailing

Less water in the winter; noted for foliage

Gloxinia

Sinningia

Winter – spring

Red, burgundy, pink, purple with white/yellow throat

Upright

Scaly rhizomes

Cape Primrose

Streptocarpus

Everblooming

Blue, pink, lavender, white

Rosette

Keep moist

Streptocarpella

Streptocarpella

Everblooming

Blue, purple, lavender

Rosette or spreading

sometimes considered a type of Streptocarpus

African Violet

Saintpaulia

Everblooming

Purple, blue, pink, white, bicolor, lavender

Rosette or spreading

Variegated leaf types; avoid cold water on leaves

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