If you are looking for the perfect houseplant gift, try a streptocarpus. A mouthful I know but it is a beautiful flowering houseplant — cousin to the African violet but with more drama. I came across several at Merrifield Garden Center this weekend. What a perfect hostess gift for a holiday party. It is unique, festive, and will last longer than a poinsettia.
Native to Africa, streptocarpus is commonly called a Cape primrose. There are more than 135 species, and the size varies. The plants you see in the garden centers will have long, strap-like leaves with tubular flowers high above the plant. Merrifield has the Greenfuse Botanicals (California-based breeding company) line called Lady Slippers. There are some though with only a single leaf that can range from a few inches to a few feet in length.
Grow these plants like you would grow an African violet. They need strong indirect sunlight by the window or fluorescent tubes. They grow best with day temperatures of 65 to 80 degrees and night temperatures between 65 and 68 degrees. They do not like heat so if you put them outdoors in the summer along with your other houseplants, they may perish.
The soil should be evenly moist, but not wet. If you let the soil begin to dry out just a little bit between waterings, that would be ideal. Do not let water get on the leaves. There is specially formulated African violet soil which will work well for streptocarpus plants. They need to be fertilized with diluted balanced fertilizer. A balanced fertilizer has the same proportion of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, the three numbers below the name of the fertilizer. To prevent a build up of fertilizer salts, periodically leach the plant by letting water run through the soil and out the drainage holes.
A streptocarpus is a type of a gesneriad, member of the Gesneriaceae family. In our area, gesneriads are greenhouse or house plants and include the African violet, espiscia, columnea, sinningia, and aeschynanthus to name a few. If you really enjoy growing streptocarpus, try your hand at growing other gesneriads and consider joining the local National Capital Area Chapter of the Gesneriad Society.