Toronto Gesneriad Society

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Welcome to the Toronto Gesneriad Society web site. Our home is on the north shore of Lake Ontario, but our members are international. We have an active and enthusiastic membership with all levels of experience. This site was designed to introduce our society and to inform you of our activities. Check us out.

The purpose of the society is to stimulate a widespread interest in gesneriads; to provide a convenient and beneficial association of persons interested in gesneriads; to gather and publish reliable information relative to the culture, identification and propagation of gesneriads; to provide a forum for the study, exchange and showing of plant material; to support initiatives for the collection and conservation of gesneriads in the wild and to encourage the origination and introduction of new cultivars. 

What is a Gesneriad? The question is so often posed and yet so seldom satisfactorily answered.

Why?  Simply because there's no easy or concise way in which to answer that question.  To do so botanically would involve a lengthy procedure, and would entail a mind-boggling concoction of technical terms which would mean nothing to most of us. The family known as Gesneriaceae was named in honour of Konrad von Gesner, a 16th century Swiss naturalist.

The gesneriad (pronounced either “jez-NARE-ee-ad” or “guess-NARE-ee-ad”) is the familiar term commonly used for all the plants in the family Gesneriaceae, which consists of over 133 genera and more than 3000 species. Although gesneriads are one of the largest tropical plant families, there are some genera that grow in alpine regions such as Serbia and on Mount Olympus in Greece.

Here we will relate in simple terms some of the characteristics that help to determine whether or not a plant should belong to this family:

(1)      The calyces are made up of four or five green or coloured, leaf-like parts called sepals. The sepals are separate; but sometimes they are united forming a cup or a tube.

(2)       Inside the calyx is the corolla that is made up of five petals, or occasionally four,   which are joined at the base forming a tube. The tube can be flat (as seen in Saintpaulia), elongated (as seen in Sinningia), or it can be two-lipped, consisting of upper and lower lobes of different sizes (as seen in Columnea).

(3)       The ovaries are unicelled, enclosing a large number of ovules. It develops into a seedpod or a berry that contains tiny seeds.

(4)       Normally there are two to four stamens in the flower, either fused in pairs or in a circle. There is a single pistil.

(5)        The leaves are opposite and almost always simple and they may be in whorls of three or more at the same node.  Sometimes the opposite leaves may be of unequal size as is well demonstrated in the genus Dalbergaria. The leaves may be green, variegated or they may be patterned with red or metallic hues, the latter is well demonstrated in the genus Episcia.

(6)       Gesneriads may be herbs, shrubs, vines and even small trees. Most are terrestrial, but some like orchids, are epiphytes, which grow in the crutches of trees. In their natural habitat, gesneriads will be found growing in conditions ranging from mottled shade to full sun.

(7)        The roots are fibrous, arising from the base of the aerial stem.  Underground storage structures called rhizomes and tubers are sometimes produced.

Gesneriads vary in size from that of the miniature Sinningia pusilla, the blossom of which is seldom larger than a shirt button, to that of the trailing Columnea, which if left to grow unchecked, could reach a length of 5 meters. Most of them are of a manageable size and are known to the home grower as African Violet (Saintpaulia), Florist Gloxinia (Sinningia speciosa), Lipstick Plant (Aeschynanthus), Goldfish Plant (Columnea), Cape Primrose (Streptocarpus) and Flame Violet (Episcia).

The foregoing is by no means the complete definition of what classifies the gesneriads, but we hope that it will provide you with some insight on what is a gesneriad.

Modified from articles written by Monte Watler of the TGS and the late Jimmy Dates, an AGGS member and former AGGS registrar and Membership Chair.

Episcia 'Cleopatra'

Episcia 'Cleopatra'

Flame Violet

Episcia 'Pink Panther'

Episcia 'Pink Panther'

Episcia 'Suomi'

Episcia 'Suomi'