Sinningia sp. as garden plants

John Ingram
Sun, 16 Nov 2003 21:23:16 PST
Here is my intro:

I have been growing Sinningias since I was a wee lad.

My first one was given to me by an orchid grower when I was in Santa Barbara
on my internship in college. It was S. cardinalis. This has now been moved
by thosee over active splitter taxonomists to something I can't remember at
the moment.

Since then I got several of the mini's that are popular as houseplants.
These I had housed in my 80 gallon terrarium in my dorm room with all the
other lush things I loved at the time, orchids, creeping ficus, mini
begonias, etc. >From there I went to Longwood Gardens for yet another
internship. Here I got to work with the Gesneriad collection. I don't
remember getting any plants from here at the time but I might have. They are
very generous with material if you ask through the proper channels. I also
did my internship report on Sinningias. I have since lost this article. At
the time, I was corresponding with Alain Chautems at the Zurich Botanical
Garden. This was pre-internet and responses were slow. I am still in contact
with Alain about Sinningias. He is a wonderful resource for almost all the
gesneriads. Now, on to Sinningias as garden plants. There are several
species that are hardy to zone 7. I am trying a few plants in Ohio at my
uncle's house. His conditions are supposed to be z5 but the winters are much
more mild than what is expeccted of that zone so I am hopeful. If I can get
Agapanthus, Dahlias, and palm trees to over winter in his yard, I think the
sinningias will too. The two that I planted are S. sellovii and tubiflora.
Both do really well here in So Cal as garden plants. The tubiflora is a
little bit of a runner with soft felty leaves and large pure white tubular
flowers. The sellovii is a nice 2' mound of evergreen foliage with small
dusky salmon/red flowers produced by the thousands. I have donated seeds of
these to the BX for others to try. They grow to flowering size in about 8
months, maybe less with good fertiliser. The other species that offer
possibilities were stated in an email on the gesnerophiles list by Don
Tomso. I have copied it here with permission.

"Today I finally made a final judgement call on which Sinningia species
endured our rather hard winter.  I did this by digging around in the bed
where they were growing, and looking for signs of life. Except in one case
(which I describe below), none of the plants had yet sprouted from their
winter dormancy.

The winter just past was the first really cold one we've experienced since I
began evaluating Sinningia hardiness.  By 'really cold,' I mean that temps
were into the single-digit (F) range on more than one night, and that we had
sustained temps below freezing for several days at a time on a few
occassions.  This is the type of weather that puts us into USDA zone 7 here
in central NC, whereas for the past few years we've had zone 8 or even zone
9 types of temperatures (lows in the teens or twenties).

I will point out that the summer preceding this winter gave us a drought of
epic proportions, the worst in over 100 years.  I was overwhelmed with other
demands and failed to water my Sinningia plots regularly enough.
Consequently, most of the species were not as large or robust as they could
have been when the season ended.  This could very well have influenced

This is year 3 of the hardiness trial.  Species which had survived previous
moderate winters include:

S. conspicua S. aff. reitzii 'Black Hill' S. sellovii S. elatior S. lineata
An S. 'Apricot Bouquet' x self seedling with a strong S. warmingii-like look
to it.  I call this hybrid S. 'Friend of the Devil' right now. S. nivalis
and S. allagophylla may also have been in the bed, but I had a dog-induced
labeling loss that rendered a few IDs murky.

At any rate, this spring I witnessed a depressing lack of growth from the
test plot, so I waited and waited. At last, I saw some good-looking shoots
emerging from an unexpected quarter--S. lineata was back!  Both test
specimens emerged and are looking pretty good.  This species has grown but
not flowered in the test plot, for reasons unknown. I suspect too much sun
or inconsistent moisture. This year I will address the later problem if
possible, and see if I can induce flowers.  I would never have identified
this species as a candidate for hardiness, and it landed in the trial simply
out of a glut of tubers at the time of planting.  Go figure.  I'm
exceedingly happy about this, though, since this species has figured
prominently in many of my crosses.  Consequently, I now have quite a bit of
hybrid material to evaluate for hardiness in the years to come.

I dug up and relocated the huge S. 'Friend of the Devil' tuber earlier this
year, and it looked totally intact.  Since then, it has failed to begin
growth, so I don't know exactly what is happening, except that transplanting
may have set it back.

At any rate, seeing no other shoots, I dug into the test plot today, looking
for tuber remnants as I did so.  I found quite a few decayed and/or
dessicated husks of dead tubers, confirming my initial diagnosis of gruesome
death for most of the species.  As I lost faith, I became more careless.  Of
course, it was shortly thereafter that I turned up a (thoroughly broken)
white shoot that looked quite a bit like an underground Sinningia sprout.  A
careful search of the area turned up not one, but three good-sized and firm
tubers, two of which showed definite sprouts.  They had a very distinct
structure, irregular, connected by underground stems, and spread about in a
peculiar fashion.  Undoubtedly, these belong to S. aff reitzii 'Black Hill,'
an idea which is of course supported by their location in the test plot. So,
I now add this species to the 'pretty darned hardy' list.  Additionally, the
fact that it not only survived, but obviously spread to form a little
colony, is very encouraging from a gardening perspective, since the gradual
growth of a clump would lend it some advantage as a flowerbed specimen.  Its
inclination to push new tubers out and down from the parent tuber is certain
to be a survival advantage in cold-winter areas.  In mid-season I replanted
one of these plants to a shadier location, since it seemed to suffer in
bright sun, so I am now closely monitoring the second location to see if the
other plant sprouts.

One last tuber turned up during my rooting around.  It is a pretty typical-
looking rounded tuber, lacking any shoots but obviously intact.  I have
planted it to await growth and identification, since it came from the
ambiguous section of the plot.  Sadly, I can't name the species, although it
is almost certainly S. elatior or S. allagophylla, and possibly S. nivalis.

S. conspicua clearly died.  Surprisingly, about 20 S. sellovii plants also
died a true and awful death.  This species had endured 4 years in my garden.

To recap, S. lineata and S. aff. reitzii 'Black Hill' are truly hardy to at
least single-digit temps.  S. warmingii (or a hybrid thereof) is likely
hardy as well, but I must wait for growth to resume to conclude that.  One
other terrestrial-type species is alive, and I will ID it as soon as
possible to share with the list.  S. conspicua can endure 20 and even teen
temps, but will apparently rot out at sub-10 temps. Ditto for S. sellovii,
widely considered one of the hardier species.  Of course, these are all
based on one man's experiences, in one garden, in one year of cold temps, so
your interpretations (and mine) must be tempered w/ some caution.

Now, the exciting thing to me is that one of my favorite hybrids right now
is my primary cross between S. iarae and S. aff. reitzii 'Black Hill,' both
of which appear hardy.  The hybrid, which I'm calling S. 'Dire Wolf' to
avoid writing out the longer cross name, is very pretty and floriferous, and
I have great hopes for it as a garden specimen now.

The other thing I did out there today was plant a new crop of species to be
evaluated, including S. tubiflora, S. sceptrum, two collections of S.
elatior, S. warmingii, and S. curtiflora.  With any luck, these will become
established and provide some more information in years to come.  I will
continue to work with the various hardy species and hybrids as well, of
course, and I will keep you all posted as I make more observations!

Here are a few updates on the hardiness report from last night:

--The S. lineata tubers are not buried very deeply--just beneath the
surface, and now covered with about 1 inch of pine bark mulch.  Over the
winter, they were quite shallow--maybe 1/2 inch below the surface.  I'm as
suprised as anyone about their survival, as I said.  I was sure that rot
would get them, even if the cold didn't.  I'll photograph them soon to share
w/ the list. Their top growth is currently about 3" tall and about 4" across
and expanding rapidly.

--The S. 'Friend of the Devil' tuber that I relocated has been found and re-
re-located.  It had something like 30 to 50 shoots emerging from it when I
dug it up, so it is clearly alive and well.  For those who don't remember,
this is the giant tuber that I dug up in February, which is easily the size
of a cantaloupe. This will produce a shrub-sized plant in no time, unless it
is trampled by my dog.  This plant is a monster, and I'll take cuttings to
share around this year, which won't be a problem as it is very prolific.
This is a hybrid, derived from S. 'Apricot Bouquet,' but showing a very
strong resemblance to it's S. warmingii progenitor."

This is all very good news. For those of us onthe wst coast who never see
temps below 20F. We should all be able to grow them as easily as we do
Hemerocallis or Amaryllis.

If anyone has other outdoor info, I would greatly appreciate hearing about
it. I have a nice crop of seedlings coming along of S. douglasii - a rare
red form, sellovii, and a few mixed hybrids. I am also looking into
intergenreic crosses with Paliavana and Vanhouttea. The former are large
bushes from Brasil with huge flowers. They are evergreen, drought tolerant
and have garden potential in milder climates such as mine. Vanhoutteas are a
little more difficult to cultivate but I am hoping that the hybrids will be
easier, more compact and more floriferous. Many possibilities, so little

John Ingram in L.A., CA.
Soon to become check it out soon

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