Isoloma The African Violet Relative

When a friend sent me a strange looking creeping rhizome labeled tydaea, it seemed to me the loosely put together little white tuber could never produce a spark of life. But, I planted it 1/2 inch deep in a light mixture of sand, peat and good loam. The soil was moistened and I set the pot away in a dark cupboard. This was really too warm for an ideal location but it was the coolest spot I had. That was in mid-November. Once a week the pot was inspected and usually a light spraying of warm rain water was given – just enough to keep the tuber from drying out.

old botanical plate of Isoloma elegans

On January 3 the new growth was about 1/4 inch high so the pot was set on a table near a south window. The intensity of the sun here in the South is very different from a southern exposure in the North. Delicate leaves do not burn. In fact I have grown African violets in unprotected south windows all year in Arkansas. In that location this plant stayed until the first blossom appeared on June 8 when it was moved to a north window near my desk where I can enjoy its beauty. There it gets lots of unshaded light but no sun.

As soon as it blossomed I was anxious to know the correct name and found that tydaea is now known as isoloma and that it is closely allied to African violet, gloxinia, achimenes and gesneria. Because of variations and hybridization in cultivation the names of this group are much confused so I am not too sure whether my plant would be considered amabile or a hybrid of that species since it is up right, and has clear green leaves. When these are very young reddish hairs cover the surface, especially the tips of the leaves. The pendent blossoms with five rounded lobes are 2 inches long and 1-1/2 inches wide. They are dark purplish rose outside and inside on a light ground velvety dots of the darker color are quite close together. In fact there are so many dots on the top two lobes that the effect is one of almost solid color. Whatever the name, it produces lots of blossoms over a long period of time, has attractive foliage and is as happy in its northern exposure as it was during its sojourn in the south window.

My plant likes to be moist but not wet and an occasional fine spraying of water of room temperature seems to be appreciated for it then takes on that “new” look a well-cared for plant has. This plant makes a welcome addition to the summer window garden, giving both variety and newness at a time of the year when they are most welcome.

by F Kellen

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