by club member Dennis Kramb
Smithiantha are relatives to African violets that come from southern Mexico. There are 6 species and many different hybrids available. They enjoy slightly stronger light than AVs but not too much direct sun. They bloom with spikes of flowers from 10 inches to 30 inches tall depending on the variety, and the tubular flowers are about 2 inches long. The flower colors range from red to orange to yellow to white to lavender, sometimes with decorative stripes or dots. A few varieties are mildly fragrant. Their growth habit is a bit different than AVs. After blooming they will slowly decline and watering should be reduced. They will eventually go completely dormant & resprout again in a few months from rhizomes underground. They are exactly like Achimenes in this manner, if you happen to be familiar with those.
In April 2016 I bought 2 packets of seeds on eBay from Thad Scaggs in Florida. He’s a popular hybridizer of lots of different gesneriads. I planted them right away and got my first bloom in November. I had to wait another month for the next one to bloom on Christmas day. By then there was a new seedling blooming almost every day. I took photos of each one & compiled a collage for each batch. I labeled them TS-A and TS-B. And I still have many more seedlings that have yet to bloom. I was not prepared for the diversity of colors, shapes, patterns and sizes that I got. I could not be more thrilled! And there are still many more seedlings yet to bloom.
And I must mention the foliage. Smithiantha foliage is legendary! It is sooooo fuzzy and soft and fun to touch that I would grow Smithiantha even if they didn’t flower. The colors of the foliage are wide ranging as well. Some are so dark red they almost appear black. Others are green, in shades from very dark to almost chartreuse. And then others are combinations of multiple colors. And then some Smithiantha have leafs one color and the fuzzy hairs are a contrasting color, so the overall effect changes depending on your angle of view. My seedlings exhibit tremendous range of variety. The one that bloomed on Christmas Day had medium solid green leaves & stems with bright red hairs all over — perfect Christmas colors!
Normally Smithianthas are winter bloomers and dormant by the spring & summer. Therefore it’s rare to encounter them at any AV flower shows. But you can propagate them like AVs with just a leaf, and with a bit of luck it is possible to manage having a beautiful blooming plant in spring or summer. When they go dormant you can dig through the pot and harvest the rhizomes to share with your friends. This is a great way to share plants without risking hitchhikers like thrips. If you like the look of my Smithiantha flowers, check them out on Google to see what full grown plants look like. They make great companions for AVs.