Seemannia sylvatica, formerly known as Gloxinia sylvatica, is a wonderful house plant to have. A rapid grower, it quickly fills up a pot and flowers heavily and constantly. This plant belongs to the gesneriad family and originates from South America. It produces rhizomes and if worst comes to worst, your plant gets exposed to the cold or gets dried out, you can bring it back to life, as long as there is a fragment of a healthy rhizome in the soil. This plant grows offshoots and fills up the pot completely in a very short period of time, so I wouldn’t recommend it for mixed containers or arrangements.
Some cultivars like ‘Bolivian Sunset’ are quite large, a lot more enduring and better suited for outdoor cultivation. Seemannia medea looks almost identical to Bolivian Sunset and it grows quite tall with firmer taller stems, larger longer leaves and slightly larger flowers. There are many different cultivars as well as an yellow form of the plant. The one I have is closer to what is found in nature. It’s a small stature plant, seldom growing more than 6-7 inches in height (mine stays around 5 inches tall when provided with lots of bright indirect light), quickly filling up the space in a pot by growing a network of rhizomes and many offshoots.
This plant is a pleasure to have. It has gorgeous unique blooms that really catch the eye, and you are sure to get many compliments on it. It’s very easy to grow, and even if something goes wrong, or you forget to water it, it can quickly recover.
Seemannia sylvatica likes plenty of water and can even tolerate sitting in a tray full of water. In fact, I do that sometimes on a hot day. This plant takes in quite a bit of water. Nevertheless, don’t let it soak in water for days, as it will most definitely rot. If you dry it out, it can re-sprout from its rhizomes, but overwatering it might rot the rhyzomes and there is no recovery from that. Just observe the leaves. Sometimes you will water it just to find the leaves going limp several hours later, so you simply have to water it with more water. Significantly cut down on the watering during the winter months. Seemannia sylvatica grows the best with a hygrolon strip through the soil and a water reservoir, passively maintaining the soil at the perfect level of moisture. You can chose to let it “die” for the winter by placing it in a slightly colder, darker place and significantly reducing the watering. Once you start watering the plant in the spring time it will re-sprout.
This plant can adapt to a range of light conditions. If you grow it at low light it will get leggy but still flower. Indoors east and west windows are ideal. In my experience, you get the best results from very bright indirect light. Such as north facing garden window with no obstructions, where the plant gets bright light from all directions, but no direct light, or outside on the north side of the house, with couple of hours of direct sunlight, no noon light and plenty of bright indirect light. You can slowly accustom your seemannia to full light as well, but it has to be done very, very gradually otherwise you will burn the leaves.
Seemannia sylvatica likes higher humidity. If the humidity is too low the tips of its leaves will dry out, and it will not look as pretty. The leaves are somewhat ‘hairy”, so spraying on them directly will result in blotches and spots, even holes. A tray with water and rocks under the pot, so that the plant is not soaking in water, is a great way to keep the relative humidity around the plant high.
You can read more about humidity and tips on how to maintain it here.
Soil Type and Fertilizer:
I personally use African violet soil mixed with regular potting soil and lots of perlite. You can make your own mix as well (regular soil, peat moss, a bit of lime and perlite). This plant is not that needy, though it really helps to have the soil be light and puffy and well drained. I use African violet fertilizer for this plant, though a generic, well balanced fertilizer will do the job as well. Fertilize from spring to fall every now and then, preferably at a lower than the recommended concentration, but more often that recommended.
Seemannia sylvatica is extremely easy to propagate. It rapidly grows offshoots and you can simply dig one out. You can technically root a cutting as well, or dig out a piece of rhizome and plant that. Many options there, though offshoots are the easiest and fastest way to propagate it. This plant grows to a nice dense specimen and you can simply split it into two good sized, covered in flower plants.
Other Care Tips and Personal Observations:
I still get surprised when I go to re-pot a well grown Seemannia sylvatica and I lift the plant from the pot. Where did the soil go? It almost seems all the soil was converted into roots and rhizomes. And any piece of rhizome can be used to grow a plant.
I absolutely love this plant. I really like the flowers on it. Those furry red bells with spotted yellow inside are so gorgeous and cheerful. The overall growth habit of this plant is so lovely. I prefer it over the Bolivian Sunset form, as it stays more compact. It’s definitely a must have plant. I would even say that this is a great beginner plant.
An interesting observation that I’ve made is that this plant likes to fill up a pot with its rhizomes and then offshoots, before it starts flowering. However, if you take out a flowering offshoot and start you plant from there, it will remain flowering while growing its rhizome network and offshoots.