Can Anyone Grow Gloxinias?

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During the past 10 years, the African violet has been the only house plant to gain more popularity than gloxinia. 

A recent popularity poll made it the number two house plant in the country, a distinction that this most spectacular member of the gesneriad family richly deserves.

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Gloxinias were discovered in 1785 and named in honor of P. B. Gloxin of Strassburg, Germany. In 1817, Gloxinia speciosa was introduced into England, rapidly gaining popularity.

Early Gloxinias Species

The early species had small, nodding, purple-blue flowers, about one and a quarter inches across, but were hybridized until the present-day hybrid slipper was developed. These come in many colors and have blooms about three inches across. 

These slipper gloxinias are extremely choice and are often preferred by enthusiasts to the large-flowered hybrids, which sometimes have blooms four to six inches across. In fact, it is not unusual to have a bloom of seven inches across on a regular hybrid.

Actually, the origin of the modern-day hybrid is rather hazy. We know that it was discovered in Brazil and brought to Europe, where the records were either lost or never recorded. Thus very little information exists connecting the species with the early European hybrids.

Gloxinia Varieties

During the early years of the climb of gloxinia to popularity, there were a few named varieties. 

These included the following:

  • Blanche de Meru, a rose with a white throat 
  • Brunhilde, white; Defiance, red
  • Emperor Frederick, red with a white border 
  • Emperor William, purple with a white border

For some unknown reason, gloxinias seemed to lose their popularity in the latter part of the 1800s. 

Apparently, hybridists of yesteryear gave up too quickly in their search for new colors, and this lack of color variation caused the downfall. 

Today commercial and amateur gardeners are growing gloxinias by the millions in this country and Europe.

Color Preference

Color preference in gloxinias, as in other flowers, is a matter of personal taste. However, many prefer sparkling reds, making them highly popular. 

A spectacular sight always is a group of all colors — white, delicate, pink, rose, red and purple, with all the intermediate shades and hues.

In June 1951, Elvin McDonald and Peggie Schulz, aware of the growing interest in these tropical bulbs, started “The Gloxinia,” a publication devoted to their culture and related gesneriads. 

They also organized the American Gloxinia Society.

Growing Gloxinias

Gloxinias are not hard to grow, yet they are temperamental enough to make them challenging. 

One way to start is with a mature plant from the local florist or greenhouse. Then, when flowering is passed, give the plant enough water to prevent it from drying out all at once. 

This will allow the top to die naturally and slowly and develop the tuber to be better conditioned for storage. 

The tuber may be left in the pot, or if you have several, they may be stored in a plastic bag filled with vermiculite.

Factors For A Good Bloom

Several factors govern good bloom on gloxinias. To begin with, plants must be kept growing from the time they are planted, whether it is November or February. 

A tuber started in November in the north, where days are short during the winter, will outproduce those planted at any other time if sufficient light is given to prevent leggy growth. 

Some varieties, of course, which are poor bloomers, result from an improper balance between light and temperature. 

Too high temperatures and insufficient light produce poor plants, and the condition is only exaggerated when fertilized.

Ideal Temperature

Another need of gloxinia is the ideal temperature, that is, 70° to 75° degrees Fahrenheit by day and 62° to 65° degrees Fahrenheit by night. 

During winter, a homegrown plant requires all the sun of a south or east window. Turning the pot regularly will help to keep the foliage uniform and symmetrical. 

If, however, you find that your growing conditions are unfavorable during the winter months, hold tubers in a dormant stage until February, when the sun is brighter and days are longer.

Feeding Gloxinia

Gloxinias thrive in fibrous textured soil, rich in organic matter. During the winter months, occasional feeding helps to keep them in active growth. 

A plant on the yellow side indicates it is headed for its rest period prematurely and, if fed, will help buds present to open.

It is possible for plants grown in pots too small for the size of the tuber and kept on the dry side to come into the bud and go dormant without a bloom opening. 

The reason is that the tubers lack the nutrients that promote active growth.

Propagated From Seed

Gloxinias are very easily propagated from seed, which is very tiny. It may be started in a medium of 50% vermiculite and 50% peat. Do not cover with soil. Rather sprinkle with a fine mist after scattering. 

The seed will germinate at a 75° to 80° degrees Fahrenheit temperature in about a week and will be ready for transplanting in four to six weeks.

July and August planted seeds will come into bloom the following spring, while plants started in March and April come into bloom between July and September. Due to the heat, however, they have considerably less bloom. 

Many prefer to begin plants in the spring to select the choicest for starting the following spring.

Grown From Leaf Cuttings

Choice plants may also be grown from leaf cuttings. These wilts bloom the following spring or summer. 

Some like to root them in water to see the roots develop, but they may also be rooted in a mixture of vermiculite and peat. 

When the original leaves die, or new growth appears, the new plants containing small tubers are ready to be transplanted into potting soil.

Insect Pests

Gloxinias have very few insect pests. However, mealybugs will bother them, though they prefer many other house plants. 

An aerosol bomb for house plants is effective against any common pests that may bother them. 

Sometimes plants with insufficient light will tend to curl. If crowded, they will curl or grow leggy. Although curling does not affect the flowering, it spoils its appearance.

44659 by Albert. H. Buell