Episcia cupreata ‘Silver Sheen’

The Gesneriaceae family includes a great many lovely plants such as the popular saintpaulia, sinningia and streptocarpus. Most have attractive foliage, but are grown particularly for their lovely flowers. In the case of episcia it is generally the leaves that are the plant’s chief attraction.

The ten or so species that make up the genus grow wild in the Antilles, in Central and in South America. Of these at least half deserve to be included in every collection of decorative plants for they are the prettiest of the small foliage plants.

Episcia cupreata is native to Colombia, where it grows on the banks of forest rivers. The leaves are approximately 12 cm (4Va in) long, coppery brown-ish-green, with a whitish-pink stripe alongside the midrib. The cultivar was obtained solely by selection from the various forms of the species. E. reptans from Colombia and Brazil is a similar species that has olive brownish-green leaves with a pale zone round the midrib and principal veins; the flowers are bright red. Only one species — E. dianthiflora from Mexico (now Alsobia dianthiflora) — is grown mainly for its flowers, not for its foliage. The leaves are small, only about 4 by 3 cm (l-¼ by 1 in). The fairly large white flowers (up to 3 cm [ 1 in] long) have fringed petals the same as some pinks.

It is usually recommended that episcias be grown in hanging containers but they are put to better use in shallow dishes as part of the undergrowth in epiphytic plant-cases, where they can also be put at the base of larger branches. They are also lovely in a demijohn and do well in a terrarium and by the waterside in an aquaterrarium, for which their small size makes them eminently suitable.

Propagation is very simple, either by sowing the tiny seeds on the surface of fibrous peat in a closed propagator, or by detaching the young plantlets produced on the numerous runners. Cultivation is not difficult either. All that is required is a compost such as John Innes potting compost No. 2 and a constantly high atmospheric moisture. The compost must not be allowed to dry out, but spraying the foliage does not really benefit the plants.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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