Daily Flower Candy: Streptocarpus saxorum 

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Streptocarpus saxorum: False African violet, Cape primrose.

Streptocarpus and I have an on/off love affair. I buy them from the garden centre looking fresh and full of promise; sometimes they stay that way until the fatal day when I give them a drop more water than they would like. Then, taking no account of the months, occasionally years of TLC I have bestowed upon them, they go terminally limp and refuse to recover.

I now operate a strict once a week watering regime, allowing the plants to become completely dry between soakings. This works until a house guest or the cleaner takes pity and administers a deadly dose of H2O. Being creatures of the woodland floor streptocarpus dislike drafts and direct sunlight as much as overwatering. So, unless you are very green fingered, or live in the Drakensberg Mountains from whence they hail, you are going to need to make an effort to keep them alive.

Streptocarpus saxorum, The Watch House, August 2015

My experience is that streptocarpus will let you know when they are happy. My finest specimen, a hybrid called ‘Albatross’, lives on the sill of a north-facing window in a spare bedroom. I visit it to water and deadhead once a week and in return I get a long succession of white flowers with acid-yellow throats. The leaves occasionally grow so long that they hang half way down to the floor. I dare not move it as even the slightest change of environment has put paid to other cherished plants.

I thought all Streptocarpus required mollycoddling until I stumbled upon Streptocarpus saxorum. In truth I didn’t know what I had stumbled upon for about three years as I couldn’t identify it at first. Every summer I would stay in a German castle on a business trip, and there the window boxes in the courtyard would be filled with a plant possessed of soft, felted, green leaves, bearing lilac flowers on long wiry stems. They had the appearance of little butterflies fluttering in a breeze.

Streptocarpus saxorum, The Watch House, August 2015

Fast forward to spring 2015 and I spotted pots of the very same plant at our local garden centre, tucked away on the bottom shelf of a Dutch trolley. I snapped them up, took them home and then worried about what their identity might be. I eventually established they were Streptocarpus saxorum, which by forming leafy stems rather than sprouting from a basal rosette makes them streptocarpellas rather than a streptocarpus. To me, both sound more like bacteria than flowering plants.

Recalling the ideal conditions at the German castle, I planted my streptocarpellas in window boxes and placed them on the outside sill of our neighbour’s garage window. There, sheltered and shaded from the sun for all but an hour every day they have prospered, quietly forming bushy plants attended to by a troupe of dancing butterfly blooms. Like my indoor streptocarpus they are watered just once a week by me, and by rain in between times. Apart from that they seem easy going and disease free. Even snails don’t seem especially interested.

Streptocarpus saxorum, The Watch House, August 2015

I will take cuttings before the winter sets in, as the plants are not frost hardy. In the meantime all I have to do is deadhead regularly and feed with a high potash fertiliser every fortnight.

Streptocarpus saxorum is a wonderful choice for windowboxes or containers in cool, shady areas and deserves to be more widely grown. Unlike its indoor cousins it is no trouble at all.

Streptocarpus saxorum is available from Dibleys Nurseries, holders of the National Collection of Streptocarpus.

Streptocarpus saxorum, The Watch House, August 2015

Categories: Container gardening, Daily Flower Candy, Flowers, Foliage, House Plants, Plants

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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24 comments On "Daily Flower Candy: Streptocarpus saxorum "

  1. Beautiful colour and very butterfly like blooms. My uncle has a whole greenhouse full of these plants…they always remind me of primulas on steroids!
    I saw one recently in the tropical greenhouses at Wisley that had a leaf about 3 feet long, growing out of a wall!!

  2. I pride myself on being able to grow anything, but I can’ t grow these. They are lovely.
    Did you find the email I sent you? Your Alcalthaea is ready and waiting. Maybe it went into your spam?

  3. Hello and thank you for your lovely blog. It’s a little sunshine and beauty in my day no matter how far I am from the garden. I’ve fallen in love with D. Waltzing Matilda as a result of your posts! One problem: cannot locate a source to purchase tuber in the US. Ideas? If you are not able to suggest or locate US or maybe Canadian source, will you please suggest UK source. I find that must have Matilda waltzing with the other dahlias next summer. Thank you, Julie rubydeluna@zoho.com

    1. Extremely easy Mary. Take a shoot about 3-4′ long, preferably flowerless, cutting just below a leaf. If you have flowers, just snip them off. Use some rooting powder and plant into open compost perhaps with some perlite added. Seal in a plastic bag and keep cool and out of direct sun. The cuttings should root quickly (2-3 weeks). The mother plant should re-shoot and make a bushier plant. The youngsters will start flowering straight away. Do let me know how you get on.

  4. Hi, I’m back again. Thank you so much for your help. I did exactly as you instructed and all my cuttings have taken and are thriving. I do enjoy your blog, and your photos. Many thanks again. Mary

  5. I bought six streptocarpus saxorum last year and completely fell in love with them. I did not think to take cuttings so bought 24 more this year and they look wonderful in windowboxs and in pots around our London house. I shall try to take cuttings this year. If not, I shall be in touch for more – they are going to be a permanent feature for spring summer.

    1. Wonderful! They are not only something of a novelty, given most streptocarpus prefer to be indoors, but also perfectly suited to London gardens where they can enjoy some shade. And the flowering period is so long. Cuttings are really easy to take. Just give them a little heat and humidity to begin with and they will be rooted in no time. Thanks for your comment.

  6. I absolutely love S. saxorum. We always had them in large hanging baskets in the botanical gardens where I worked in Amsterdam. They go on for ever and can take quite a lot of sun if the humidity is good, even full sun. The colour is of course also wonderful.

    I grow them as ground covers in large terracotta pots of Camellia azalea at the entrance to our garden room where they charm me every time I walk in. They can take lots and lots of water and rain in summer but prefer to be a little on the dry side through winter.

    I haven’t had trouble with the other species either and love their big show of flowers in some spectacular colours. Again it’s the blue purples that always get me salivating. For most of the big strap leaved ones I simply gouge out a hole in the base of a large Asplenum fern exactly the size of the pot and plant in there. I prefer a small pot size, these establish better getting away from the peaty compost they are grown in. Absolutely no disturbance to the root and leaves which can be fatal especially the leaves, these snap off if you so much as speak. The living fern and it sort of meld and they settle extremely well, almost instantly. Unfortunately one of the ferns fell out a tree, down went the whole thing laden with all sorts of passengers I had been cultivating over the years. The thing was so established it was useless to try and save anything. The whole thing went on the compost heap. Much to my delight it happily continued growing turning a rather smelly dank corner into a delightfully garden where I planted bamboo and put down pavers. The ferns get five foot wide so they shade the Streptocarpus nicely just allowing a few hours of morning sun. They don’t make good house plants needing humidity and a free root run through living moist mossy spongy stuff.

    One of my favorite walks is in Pondoland many thousands of miles away where we have a beach cottage is on the Wild Coast, through the Umtumvuna escarpment. As you enter into the dramatically and dangerously vertical ravines escaping the scorching sun and exposed veld grasses (packed with flowers), decending down through and into the shady giant broad leaf evergreen tree canopy you begin to see hundreds of lovely Streptocarpus (amongst other things) growing in cool seepage lines in the cracks on the rock walls. Here they are permanently wet, a mossy dripping garden of delights. Water is relished and lots of it. Tiny seedlings establish on wet slimy rock faces. They do also get sun but it’s dappled and only a few hours or so.

    Not an easy thing to achieve in your average living room but I think a large glass box and mister might work. The water needs to be a very specific PH and not chlorinated tap water or you would get rot, the air must be humid but freely circulating. Easy to produce in green houses with fans, lighting and misters but honestly not very good house plants. Yes, so tempting I was burnt any number of times when I lived in Europe. Who can resist.

    Hope you had a lovely time in India. My Jacquemontia pentanthos (discovered in Bangalore) seeds I got off the internet in the USA all turned out to be duds so back to the drawing board……

  7. I live in New Zealand, in a zone 7 (US) location, where the norm is cool nights. These plants thrive with warm days with cool-cold nights. Streptocarpus likes growing as a lithophyte and I grow them in pure green spaghnum moss, where they thrive. They suffer in potting soil and I would not recommend it. I feed them with orchid food. They dislike drying out in summer. Mine have survived -5C sheltered in my back porch. If they get to cold or dry, the plants will go dormant and disappear underground, which they often do here in winter. I still keep them dampish, but never wet or arid. Once conditions are better, resume watering and the plant will start to shoot tiny leaves above ground. Don’t be fooled into thinking they’re dead, it is dormancy when conditions are severe.We get a lot of dry air and the plants love being wetted in summer. I place them in the shower and wet them down with cool water and then feed them. Direct sun is their enemy.

  8. Where I currently live and garden in Sydney, Australia, the garden is large. Be reassured my friend, the health and magnificent vigour of your plants put those in our large yard to shame, especially the Streptocarpella Streptocar. I just looked it up, as I am shamed enough to try and improve their sad look of reproach!

    1. Hi Clarice. Cool shade but decent light and moisture is what they need. If they get too hot or dry they will quickly stop flowering in my experience.

      Don’t get down about your yard. I can keep my garden healthy and vigorous because it is small. I’d face the same challenges if I had anything larger. Plus you have much warmer summers than we do! Dan

  9. My Plant has become very spraling.It lives on a windowsill with good light and no direct sun.Its out growing its space any ideas ?

    1. Easy. It’s time to give your streptocarpus the chop! Cut the plant back to the shape and size you are happy with. Then feed with a high potash feed to encourage re-flowering. Use the clippings to make cuttings. Most shoots or stem sections will root in a glass of water or a free draining compost and then you’ll have more plants to grow on or give away. Dan

  10. i just found your page when looking for the name of a plant: streptocarpus saxorum. 😉 wish me best of luck.
    by the way you re also an fabulous writer and entertainer . love from dortmund, germany, Irmentraut

  11. Have just today bought a streptocarpus Dacorum and looked at your blog for the first time to see how to grow it. I love all the info and good advice. Thankyou I’m looking forward to taking cuttings and try growing more of this lovely plant.

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