June 21, 2012

What I Learned About Sinningia While Delayed At The Airport

by Kenneth Moore

I don't consider myself a gesneriad master in the slightest--I've been growing gesneriads for just a few years and have killed more than I've been successful with. In the past year or so, I've started getting into tuberous gesneriads, particularly Sinningia (particularly particularly the eensy teensy ones like S. pusilla). And although I've stumbled upon the Sinningia and Friends website on occasion (for example, when trying to learn more about all these seeds I'm starting at home), I never spent any measurable time browsing through it.

Well, I got to the airport 2 hours early this evening only to find out my flight was delayed by 5 hours because of low cloud cover in San Francisco. So, with quesadilla in one hand, strawberry margarita in another, I decided it was time to learn a bit more about these plants I'm trying to grow.

One of the most important things was this: Sinningia is a big genus with tons of species. To experienced gesneriasts, this is a "Well, duh" statement. But I had no idea the genus (and friends) was split into five clades (groupings of related species--basically, specific branches of a large family tree). With all the recent buzz about the Gesneriad Society's upcoming national convention and the much-anticipated hybridizers' meeting, I decided to join the hybridizers' group. I don't hybridize (yet!), but it's going to happen--I can't stop myself from knocking plants up. Knowing what clade different Sinningia species are in could at least help me figure out what is more likely to work if I try it. And perusing the hybrid list on the website gives me a starting point for ones to try, or could help me avoid ones that have been done before.

Another thing I learned was that Sinningia canescens seedlings look nothing like their adult forms. I got seed from the Brazil Plants group--but in the time between ordering the seed, getting them, sowing them, having them germinate, and transplanting them once they were larger than microscopic green fuzz, I had forgotten why the adult form interested me at all. (The answer is "White! Fuzzy! Tuber!")

So when I ran across the S. canescens page on Sinningia and Friends, I worried that my seedlings were mislabeled. A quick tweet from a gesneriad friend calmed my anxiety and reminded me of wisdom I learned during my botanical studies back in the co-ed days: Some plants look different as babies. Spinach is perhaps a good example of that--short and soft and round and yummy as a baby, but tall and not so tasty and pointed leaves as an adult. It's not an exact comparison, certainly, but still something I should be able to figure out myself (even a margarita and a half into my flight delay).

I don't have a photo of my own S. canescens seedlings, but closely related S. leucotricha's seedlings look almost the same:
Sinningia leucotricha seedlings
Photo of Sinningia leucotricha seedlings by --ki--- on Flickr

I also learned that I tend to prefer Sinningia in the Corytholoma clade. I never realized how cladist I was until I saw the names on a list: S. pusilla, S. sellovii, S. defoliata, S. aghensis, S. helioana, S. muscicola. Most of the Sinningia I grow by choice (rather than random grabs from the swap table) are in this clade. A couple (S. gigantifolia, S. gerdtiana, and S. micans) aren't included in that generalization, but they are definitely the exceptions to the trend I'm noticing.

I wonder--is my preference for Corytholoma clade Sinningia a personal one, or one based on availability of seeds and plants? Are Corytholoma plants just generally easier to grow under my care?

I perhaps have plenty more reason to continue learning about Sinningia--but, while I still have 4.5 hours to wait for my delayed flight, I'm going for another margarita.