July 13, 2010

A hardy gloxinia -Sinningia tubiflora

I think I have finally mastered growing Sinningia tubiflora, one of the many new 'hardier' gesneriads, those plants in the African Violet family, which are getting more and more collectable by those in-the-know. This week, my gravel container garden has been overcome by a magnificent specimen, which, I have to admit, was an accident. This Sinningia tubiflora  is growing in a deep terra cotta pot, and its become essentially, a giant lemon scented air freshener, yes, its evening fragrance lingers across the garden in our hot, humid summer weather.

Thanks to fellow blogger, reader and friend, Brian Morely, who shared this plant with me last year. He had send me a few tubers in the mail, wrapped in newspaper. Thanks Brian!  I've tried Sinningia tubiflora twice before, with little luck. Apparantly, I am not alone in finding this species difficult to bloom. Lots of foliage, ( which often spotted and became sloppy) and when flower stems finally did appear, they flopped over before blooming, leaving them twisted and deformed. Last year, I only had three stems with a few flowers.
This year, it's a whole other story. I can only guess that a few changes in how I treat my plants may have helped, I can say, that I have not fussed with the plant, if anything, I have ignored it. First, I didn't divide the tuberous mass of potato-like tubers, instead, I dragged the overgrown pot into the greenhouse on a cold, frost-threatening day in October last year. Yes, it says 'hardy' but it is not deep-freeze hardy here in New England. I grow Sinningia tubiflora in containers. Once in the greenhouse for the winter, the plant stumbled along at near freezing temps. Once in mid-winter, I had decided to toss the plant, but I decided not to since Joe would see the rootball on the snow ( he hates that, and I am too lazy to drag my butt out to the compost pile. Once I unpotted the mass of tubers, I was impressed, and a little overwhelmed, so I like any guy who is lazy, I shoved the mass under a bench and forgot about it. There it spent the entire winter, never looking worse for the wear.

In spring, I noticed that the giant ball of tubers and roots, was sprouting all over, and I briefly thought about separating it into a few dozen tubers, to share, plant and maybe to sell on eBay. But I never got to it. So one day in May, I just decided to try potting the entire mass of shoots and tubers. It was so big, that it only fit in one giant 14 inch clay pot, so in it went, and I set it on the hot gravel bed in full sun.
Here is what I think happened. First, the mass of tubers probably preferred not to be separated, hence, the mass of sprouts evolved into growth, and the stems are stronger, holding each other up. Then, the ratty foliage never appeared, which I feel is the result of the hot gravel below the plant, which dries the foliage off early in the morning, and the good air circulation keeps the foliage dry. Third, the full sun helps keep the plant strong and dense. Fourth, the cold winter in the greenhouse probably helped the plant vernalize more, or whatever. I have found many notes online that colder winter temps have resulted in more flowers, not sure if this is true or not.

Regardless, I now have an incredibly stunning specimen plant as a container plant, and it's fragrance fills the entire side yard, drifting over the garden even giving the lilies a run for their money. You can find this plant at Plant Delights Nursery, or, you can find friends who will share tubers with you. Plant Delights states in their catalog that the plant is a hummingbird magnet, but I have yet to see one on it, even though the Hummers visit this garden every few minutes. I see them on the Agapanthus next to it, on the Nepeta sibirica, and on the  Humminbird feeders, but never on the Sinningia. I imagine that their beaks are too short for the totally tubular blossoms, but in other areas of the country where there are  more species of Hummingbirds, such as Arizona, this might work well as a Hummingbird plant.


  1. Congratulations, you certainly have mastered this species. Summer heat and winter 'cool' (at least as cold as southern California gets on winter nights) are definitely essential. In Hawai'i it will produce copious tubers but it doesn't get cool enough each winter to produce blooms in the summers.

    I love the fragrance, like Fruit Loops cereal.

  2. Matt, I'm so glad the Sinningia did well for you this year, I agree-pot bound seems to help, as does ignoring the plant for the most part. Mine blooms well, and is kept pretty cold over the winter, and dry as well.I have to thank you for the NARGS( North American Rock Garden Society)recommendation...what a great conference!I met so many great people, and was privy to some AMAZING alpine hiking...Lewisias, Coridalis, Penstemon,and still more Penstimons! The list is a great deal longer than that, but you get the idea! The speakers were fantastic, and other than feeling "young" I had a blast.YOU need to do a early Summer trip there!!! I would recommend this great organization to anyone who loves to garden, not just rock gardners...and the seed list is unbelievable.Thank you, thank you! Brian

  3. I live about 40 miles north of Houston, TX and this plant is growing wild in my yard. I did not know what it was until today when a friend sent me this link. It is beautiful and the smell gives my Sweet Olive a run for its money. I have lived here since 1971 and this is the first year I have seen it. Did not plant it.

  4. Being white with a strong scent, like many white flowering plants, it is most likely moth pollinated in the wild.

  5. The secret is that the tubers need to be pot bound and create a network underground. Once the network is created the plant will bloom. So first its energy goes into the network and then the energy will go into flower production. I was breaking up my tubers to "share" also and then another grower Hung Nguyen told me about this necessity of building a network. So just lift the entire mass of tubers and plant in a bigger pot and grow outside in summer. Lots of blooms then! Kind of reminds me of "Avatar" ! I live in the northeast and just love this plant! I am so happy you did not give up and compost those tuber masses! Your instincts proved correct and some times no action is good action! Enjoy!


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