Sunset Bells

Sometimes I struggle grasping the diversity of the Gesneriaceae family.  With over 130 genera and an untold (well not untold but greatly disputed) number of species I am always amazed by this family of plants.  One thing that I do find fascinating is: there are no native Gesneriads to the United States and Canada and three or four are native to Mexico.

You know Gesneriads and probably have grown a few such as the African violet, lipstick plant, guppy plant, flame violet and the florist gloxinia.  If you read my blog last week I introduced you to the cape primrose (Streptocarpus).  This week I wanted to introduce you to the genus Chrysothemis or sunset bells.  There are nine recognized species native to Central America, northern South America and the West Indies and is commonly grown as an ornamental in sub-tropical areas.  The most popular and widely grown species are C. pulchella and C. friedrichsthaliana.

Chrysothemis pulchella

At first glance sunset bells resemble coleus with their dark green leaves and upright growth.  Unlike coleus, which belongs to a different family of plants, sunset bells form an underground tuber much like a potato.  Flowers form in the axial of the leaves and are surrounded by a long lasting colorful calyx.  The actual flower is short lived lasting only a few days that are often yellow with red markings.

When growing indoors they prefer medium light and porous potting mix.  A word of caution they can go dormant when temperatures fall below 60 degree Fahrenheit.  I found this out last winter and thought that I had killed mine.  Luckily enough I have learned when growing gesneriads that you always check the soil before throwing

Chrysothemis pulochella ‘Black Beauty’ tuber

out the plant.  I was happy to find a tuber hidden in the soil.  After doing more research and calling on some friends I decided to replace the potting mix and put the tuber back in the pot.  I kept the soil dry until new growth started to emerge and then went back to a regular watering schedule.

The plant isn’t overly showy but I’ve enjoyed growing it and showing it at local and regional shows.  It is a great reminder and talking point to show people the diversity of plants that call the Gesneriad family home.

Scott Evans
Scott Evans is a horticulture assistant with Nebraska Extension in Douglas-Sarpy Counties. A certified arborist through International Society of Arboirculture and Nebraska Arborist Association. Scott is also Tree Risk Assessment Qualified through ISA. Scott co-leads the Master Gardener program in Douglas & Sarpy counties. Along with volunteer management he provides his expertise with disease and insect identification, lawn and landscape weed management, plant health, and I.P.M. practices. He also enjoys growing many houseplants ranging from African violets to cacti and succulents. Scott has two Bachelors of Science, one in Biology (emphasis in Botany, Ecology and Environmental Science) and second in Environmental Geology from Northwest Missouri State University. He earned his Master of Agriculture from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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