a flashy episcia hybrid, my showiest houseplant

IT CALLED OUT TO ME at the garden center the other day, with its insane pink- and silver-flushed, fuzzy, foliage. And that was before the flowers showed up. Though simply labeled “Tropical Plant’ on the generic plastic tag (can you believe?) I knew it was an Episcia—a gesneriad, like African violet (Saintpaulia) and Sinningia—but that was about it. Home it came, anyhow, and I’m learning about how to grow my new roommate, commonly called a flame violet.

My Episcia hybrid has flowers more the color of ‘Ember Lace,’ though its foliage is different, but I was startled and excited to see its close cousin, the hybrid with redder-orangey blossoms called ‘Pink Brocade,’ on the cover of the new Logee’s catalog that arrived the day after I brought my flame violet home. Serendipity. [Update August 27, 2012: A reader says mine is ‘Pink Smoke’.]

Logee’s suggests an east or west window, with good indirect light, and to grow the plant with good humidity and warmth—not exposing it to temperatures below 65 degrees. Episcia hybrids are good hanging-basket plants, because of their inclination to trail, but can be pinched to maintain a better shape in a regular pot.  I’m told to let the soil go visibly dry between waterings, and feed monthly with a balanced dilute fertilizer labeled for houseplants or blooming houseplants.  The Logee’s tips on growing Episcia. (Note: I found that the pdf opens only in certain browsers, so you may have to tinker.) When it needs to be potted on, I’m going to use African violet medium.

There is a wonderful gallery of flame violet photos on the website of the Gesneriad Reference Web, with information about growing these stunning houseplants as well.

Ever grown a flame violet or other gesneriad? Any advice for me about this newest beauty?

  1. Tracy B says:

    Flame Violet? And I thought I’d seen just about every houseplant! Leave it to you to expose us to something new. And something so interesting. I so love this blog. I can’t add anything to the Flame Violet discussion but did want to let you know that I just finished your most recent book and am now about 25 pages into A Way to Garden. Loved the memoir and am loving the practical, clear and wryly relayed information in A Way to Garden. You have such a unique and yet familiar voice…perfect. Thank you for both books; I’ve tried to return the favor by purchasing both as hardcovers.

    A request for your consideration: I notice in your stunning photos that your lawn seems very healthy and uniformly green. I find when my lawn becomes weedy or brown-spotted it is a distraction to the garden beds– the real super stars. This year I’ve has such a battle with grubs and the resultant ‘mine field’ holes various four legged critters have been digging almost every evening to find and eat them. Can you share what methods you use (natural fertilizers, seed blends, watering strategies, etc.) to maintain such a healthy looking grass lawn? This is my challenge for next spring but is there anything I can do this fall?

    Many thanks, Tracy B.

    1. margaret says:

      You are very kind, Tracy. Thank you. As for lawn…I mow whatever is there, weeds and all, though I do dig some of the worst ones. I don’t fertilize except every few years, and when I do I use an all-natural organic fertilizer (not chemical Nitrogen). I do use lime many years, just to take the edge off the soil acidity (which favors certain of my lawn weeds). As for grubs (and animals that dig them), I used nematodes years ago to try to reduce them. My favorite source for lawn advice is SafeLawns.org.

  2. Heidi says:

    You seem like you know the basics. Another thing to look into: they recommend re-potting them every year to maintain the nicely compacted form. New growth comes from the top of the plant, and so after a while it makes a trunk where the older foliage has died. The plant starts moving away from its original home, and in a pot it just looks like its flopping over. Not very attractive! When you repot you have to trim that trunk down and stick it back in the dirt, enclose with a plastic bag for a month or so. I think some violet growers prefer a “wick” style watering system – at least don’t splash water on the leaves, which causes them to get brown spots. Our house is just too dry to grow violets or anything related to them or I would. :( They need humidity. I ordered some plants for my sister from the violet barn. They have a lot of episcias: https://www.violetbarn.com/store/index.php?_a=viewCat&catId=42

  3. heidih says:

    Good advice from the other Heidi above. We propagate the white lace (smaller solid green leaves) and the red with variegated leaves in our greenhouse at the South Coast Botanic garden. Tthe foliage usually pulls the customers in with the flowers being a bonus. At home I also let them dry out and then set in a bowl of water till heavy. Enjoy!

  4. Tracy B. says:

    Margaret, thank you very much for your reply on lawn care, above. Quick follow-up: do you use the pelleted lime, or the powder? Thanks.

  5. Patricia N. says:

    I love the Rex Begonia Vine, but I have a small house and would have the same problem you have. I have 2 huge pots with Bird of Paradise plants that my poor husband has to lug into the yard every summer. We store them in the basement over the winter and they bloom with gay abandon. i don’t understand why since it is kind of cold down there and they don’t get much sun because of the overhang at the windows (house is a raised ranch). I also have a huge Kafir lily that has put out 2 babies in the past 2 years, and the biggest spider plant you ever saw. They weren’t a problem when I taught school because I put them in the school windows and brought them home for the summer. What do I do with them now that they all need to be divided and repotted. HELP!!! I hope you are able to get your plant into the house. I have considered buying a bigger house to accomodate my tropical plants. No more tropicals for me.
    I, too, mow whatever is growing. One part of my yard has a grass that my husband calls ‘prairie grass’. It was never planted, but weeds don’t seem to stand a chance once it takes root. I will try to post a pic if I can get my camera to work.

  6. Angela Muller says:

    Sorry I can’t add anything to your latest addition, however, I have a question regarding an orchid I received as a gift. I think it should be repotted and have googled instructions regarding this. Seems a bit complicated and some of the advice differed, so……..my question………….any advice on how to repot orchids. I would greatly appreciate any advice.


  7. Dahlink says:

    Angela, good luck repotting your orchid. I have had only middling luck repotting mine–some survive and do well, others not so much. My best advice is to ask a friend with a green thumb for help! You need to get some of the special orchid bark planting medium for starters. I have found that my orchids do best if they are not overwatered and are allowed to “breathe.”

  8. Nancy says:

    Have to share a related experience about a “generic” plant label. I received a gift of a hanging basket from Home Depot with a plant that I thought looked somewhat familiar. The label just had care info and said if to know more about the plant to go to a url. When I tried, it came up as no such place. So I emailed Home Depot and got a non-answer that said I should call a toll-free number. So I emailed back to ask what the name of the plant was — since I sent in some id info. The response that came back gave me another url, which was the same info as the generic plant label. So upsetting. I correctly identified it as a form of portulaca. But this is not a good way to get people to know and understand plants.

  9. Steve Auerbach says:

    Hi Margaret,
    As long as you’re talking about pretty foliage… I’d been an interior landscaper for almost 25 years until I retired in 2005. Aglaonemas (Chinese Evergreens) were one of the mainstays, and when the Elite series of hybrids came along, I could employ them to at least add combinations of lime-greens, yellow-greens and creamy variegation to what is largely a green palette for interior settings.
    To my great surprise, a few months ago a nursery in my retirement town in Mass. had a whole bunch of new Ags with strong pink and/or almost red variegation in the leaves, making them look a lot like Caladiums without the translucency.
    I eagerly bought one, not only for its beauty, but also to see how it would hold up as a houseplant in less than ideal conditions. My guess is that the Ag will be a lot easier than a pink Episcia to maintain.

    1. margaret says:

      Oh, Steve, now I can blame YOU if I buy an Ag. :) Thanks for the tip. Hey, I am even in love with Crotons at the moment, which I adore interspersed among “annual” flowers in pots outside in summer to help tie it all together with their splashy leaves.

  10. lazynviolet says:

    The episcia you bought is a newer pink variety called “Pink Smoke” It is not hard to grow just requires a little more moisture than some of the others.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Lazynviolet. How wonderful of you to tell me all this! Can you believe it was labeled “Tropical Plant”? Ridiculous (and not very helpful). So far so good, but we are just getting acclimated to each other. I can see that they could become addictive, they are so beautiful.

  11. Antonette Lobo says:

    I am really very disappointed that episcias will not survive in my huge house no matter how much light and water they get,just as a new leaf grows it turns brown as if a lighted match was to blame.they grew like weeds in India in my childhood home I am in Edmonton Canada

    1. margaret says:

      I have found mine harder to make happy than other plants, Antonette, but as a very expert friend says: I don’t give up till I have killed a plant three times! Experimenting over here with adjustments to where I grow them.

  12. Karen Vasquez says:

    Hello there, I have a question: Did ever hand pollinate your Episcias? DID you ever get seeds?
    I’m doing a research on Episcia pollination process, but I can’t find information about how the flower behave after a successful pollination, how long the takes to get seeds, etc…
    Please let my know if you know something!
    Thank you!

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