by Duane Plummer
© Duane Plummer, April, 2000
Perennial. That's all it was marked at the home center where it was mixed in with more familiar selections. But I snatched it up because I knew I had a winner. Besides, it was the only one there, which to me says, "Ha, ha, I found it first! And no one else knows how special it is! And I get to keep it!" The fact that no one else was anywhere near me mattered not. I'd gone berry gathering and I'd found the berries. Let the other tribeswomen put that in their pipes and smoke it.
Finding something special affects any collector in a primal way. If your partner scoffs at you in scorn, just remind him of all the times he's yelled and shrieked at some guy on the small screen who's scored the touchdown or the winning run.
It's all very logical. He has to bring down the mastodon; you have to bring home the berries.
So here I am at home with "Perennial." It has lovely bronzy-green leaves, slightly puckered. It has nice orange calyces, from which protrude happy yellow tube flowers. And it has a gloxinia "feel" about it.
I proceed to thumb through all of my new gardening books I've bought since moving to Florida. Florida gardening is not exactly gardening "up-side-down". There are some plants that are outside in the winter instead of the summer, i.e. impatiens and snapdragons. There are some that are outside in the summer north or south. Most will thrive; it's a matter of figuring out when.
Anyway, new books are needed to explain the intricacies of all this lush glory around you that you wish to emulate. And I have lots of new books. No dog-eared pages or anything. I can't find "Perennial" anywhere.
I decided to treat him as I would a gloxinia because of the aforementioned "feel". As the days grew shorter and cooler (he was out on the lanai*) it seemed obvious that he was dying back and going dormant. (I hoped.)
Well, I knew that is what a gloxinia would do, so I left him in his bright corner, out of direct sunlight. Occasionally I put some water on him, but he didn't revive. This lasted long enough that I began to suspect that he should have been labeled "Annual".
Winter moved into spring. I guess. It's hard to tell down here. We don't go by seasons with the rest of the country. We have our own--90 and a little below 90. Mother's Day is spring on the calendar, but it's been in summer since I've been here. So let's say it was mid-spring when I noticed new little leaflets emerging from the soil. I fed him with Superthrive and weak African Violet food and he came on like gangbusters. He grew and thrived and soon produced this year's first blossoms.
Remembering things from long ago when I'd been gloxinia-smitten, I pinched off a small side branch. I dipped it in rooting hormone, and potted it into African violet soil. It's humid enough here that I just left it out on the lanai. The cutting never wilted back and in a few weeks, it had rooted and is now beginning to blossom. If you were doing this inside, placing the cutting pot into a plastic bag, open at the top, would be helpful. I leave them open to prevent mold from forming. I've been successful with gloxinias this way.
I've just recently made another cutting and I've visions of ground-covering a shady area with these newfound friends.
It is, like Rex begonias, a plant men find handsome. If you are a woman, this is to your advantage. His Nibs even remarked about its charm without being prodded. Or saying, "You bought another plant. We won't be able to walk around here before long!" (You can only pull the, 'But, dear, it followed me home!' bit a couple of times before he lets you know it's not cute anymore.)
Finally, at long last, much surfing on the net brought me to a site that had my mystery plant. Then I found another, and another.
My pet was indeed a gesneriad, which explained the gloxinia "feel". And I'd treated him just right. (Pause here for a little smugness.) At least for one which lives out of doors. He is:
CHRYSOTHEMIS PULCHELLA. TA DA!
How lightly it trips over the tongue.
It is sometimes called Copperleaf. Not to be confused with the Copper-Leafed Acalypha which is a shrub. He is from the Episcia tribe. That's what one reference said. This conjured up all kinds of images, but I'll spare you.
As you notice, he'd become "he" by now, so I was momentarily balked by learning that he was named for a lovely young thing in Greek mythology who was the daughter of Clytemnestera and Agamemnon. As for the 'pulchella' part, that referred to her beauty. I was stopped only for a moment. I reasoned that if I could be Duane, he could be Chrysothemis.
This is one gesneriad that is a product of the Americas. Chrysothemis is found in the Caribbean regions. Pulchella is the most widely cultivated species. (Of course. Who'd want a chrsothemis uglyatus or chrysothemis yuckii?)
Chrysothemis may produce tubers. If grown as a houseplant, African violet soil is suitable. As with most gesneriads, feed with a mild solution of violet food according to package directions, and water from the bottom with tepid water. For mine, I've used time-released granules with good success. Yes, I water from the top, but they can live outdoors down here and rain falls from above.
Good light, no bright sun, and general violet culture should suit him-them. Pot on when they've grown too large. And don't be afraid to try cuttings. They should be made when the plant is in active growth, not going dormant.
You'll find that the yellow blossoms will last only a few days, but the orange calyces hang on for a long time and new blossoms will form on other stems. The plant remains colorful.
When it begins to lose leaves and go dormant, move it to a less conspicuous place and gradually withhold water. When it has dried off, the pot can be tipped out and the tubers divided. Repot into new pots and don't water until they begin to show new life. One of Nature's miracles is that the plant will begin to tell you when to start to nurture it again in the spring. I'm always so pleased when such a plant rejuvenates. It's like welcoming back an old friend.
Oh, a *lanai is a Florida screened porch. I guess that name goes better with hibiscus and other tropicals than "screened porch". At least that is what Ponce de Leon thought after he saw them on a vacation trip to Hawaii.
Well, he could have.
For a source of chrysothemis pulchella see: Pat's Pets
For information on gesneriads in general check The American Gloxinia and Gesneriad Society