A few plants are so reliable and faithful that they become like good friends. Sinningia leucotricha is a marvellous thing and I have had my plant for at least 25 years. In that time I have only repotted it a couple of times and it gets minimal attention and yet it makes me very happy.
Sinngias are in the Gesneriaceae, which is a huge ad fascinating family of largely frost-tender plants that includes African violets and streptocarpus. Sinningia themselves are fascinating and last year I was delighted that my S. tubiflora bloomed so well. Florist gloxinias are the best-known sinningias but if a plant deserved to be better known it is S. leucotricha. It has the common name of Brazilian edelweiss but it not related. The name derives from the silver hairs on the leaves.
It is a curious plant that forms a large tuber. This sits on the soil surface and has a large, hollow, upper surface. From this grows short stems that do not branch and have four large, silky leaves at the end. A tuber will make a few or many stems. My plant usually only produced a couple of stems but last year I paid it more attention and I am rewarded with five stems this year and I promise I will give it more attention from now on – after all, you all know I have it now. At the top of the stems arise masses of scarlet, thin, tubular flowers. These are pollinated by birds in the wild and are full of nectar. This can be an issue in the home when the flowers drop and nectar gets on furniture but I can cope with that.
After the flowers drop, the leaves increase in size and although still silvery they are not quite as tactile. When young they are thick, soft and silky like Andrex puppy ears.
Perhaps because of the fact that this plant has a winter dormancy, it is often grown by collectors of cacti and succulents. In autumn, watering should be reduced and the stems drop off, leaving the large tuber on the surface of the pot. But you will see tiny, furry buds ready to grow in spring. I keep the plant dry in winter with an occasional splash of water. To grow and flower well this plant needs a seasonal change in temperature and mine is on the windowsill in the conservatory where the temperature does not go below 10c. When dormant it should tolerate temperatures down to 5c without issue. In summer it gets plenty of water and fertiliser and is in a bright spot with sun at times – if it appears. The thick covering of silvery hairs must be an adaptation to protect the leaves from sun. If in too much shade the plants get too ‘stretched’ and lose their silver colour.
Plants have to be grown from seed and will bloom in their third year. I have never noticed seeds forming on my plant but it could be the lack of a different clone or the lack of humming birds. It has been used to hybridise with other species. When repotting, use an open, free-draining compost.
It is not the easiest plant to get hold of but snap it up if you see it – it is a true gem and easy to look after and incredibly beautiful.