If you have ever grown an African violet you are may want to try your hand at growing Cape Primrose AKA Streptocarpus (strep-to-car’pus). Streptocarpus are in the Gesneriaceae family which includes the florist gloxinia, lipstick plant, guppy plant, flame violet, African violet, and many more. Recent genetic studies have determined that both the African violet and Streptocarpus are now in the same genus. You can read more about the “Great Merger” here if you wish to learn more.
Putting nomenclature aside, streps (short for Streptocarpus) are a relativity easy plant to grow. Native to southern Africa streps are defined by their strap-like leaves and rambling rosette form. They can be grown under natural light (no direct sun) but will not flower as much during the winter months. If grown under under lights you will have more consistent blooming throughout the year. They are a large plant that can easily grow to 18″ across in all directions. If you are limited in space you may want to choose from some of the newer introductions that are miniature or compact in growth. They enjoy potting mixes that are high in perlite to allow for quick drainage. If you are purchasing ready made potting mixes look for African violet mix but go ahead and add more perlite to the mix.
Streptocarpus come in a wide array of colors raining from almost black such as DS-Gotika pictured above to bi-colors such as ‘Emily’ pictured to the right and ‘Bristol’s Tie Dyed’ in the header. The margin of the flowers can be smooth or deeply ruffled or somewhere in between. They are best grown in 6″ pots to help accommodate the size and prevents them from falling over.
They should be watered once, maybe twice a week depending on the growing conditions. They will let you know when they need water much like the Peace Lily does when it goes dry. They do have a few pests that bother them such as thrips, spider mites, and soil mealy bugs. When it comes to fertilizers you can use a basic 3-1-2 ratio for general maintenance and to help with blooms look for a bloom booster with a higher middle number.
The best tip for success is lighting. They need good bright light to bloom and do best grown under lights. They can be heat sensitive to traditional T12, T8, or T5 tube lights. I have found that using newer LED tube lights they perform well without the heat issue. Light should be on for about 12 hours a day – use a timer, makes life easier.
So if you are looking for a new plant to try consider giving streps a chance. You might be pleasantly surprised how easy they are to grow and you will be rewarded with beautiful blooms.