Almost all members of the Sinningia alliance are imperiled by habitat destruction.  It goes without saying that the best remedy would be restoring habitat for these plants to survive in, but that is not within my power, and probably isn't within yours either.

There are a few measures we can all take to ensure that the species survive, with the maximum diversity possible.  Here are a few.

The Distributed Garden

  1. Grow as many species as you have room for.
  2. Grow as many genetically distinct individuals of a given species as you can (that is, not just cuttings of the same parent)
  3. Distribute cuttings and rooted plants from any species you have
  4. Set seed on your species, and contribute the result to the Gesneriad Society seed fund
  5. If you get species seed from the seed fund, give some of the seedlings to your friends (twist arms if necessary!)

The more people who grow a given species, the less likely it is to disappear.  In effect, the Gesneriad Society seed fund is like a distributed (that's computer jargon for having many locations) botanical garden.  The seed fund is a matchmaker that pairs up the people who have the seed with those who want it.  The species seed fund listing is published every six months in Gesneriads.  If you have a species which is not in that listing, you can aid the conservation effort by harvesting seed from it.

Selfing is obviously the only option if you have just one plant of a species.  That's why it is useful to have more than one plant.  In that case, you can apply pollen from one plant to the flowers of another.  This will help to preserve the diversity within the species.  [Note that the plant which provides the pollen does not have to be your own!  Gesneriad club meetings are a great opportunity for cross-pollination.]

In Situ Conservation

The best form of conservation is in situ, that is, habitat preservation.  This has its risks and drawbacks, among them:

Ex Situ Conservation

The alternative is ex situ conservation, growing the plants in gardens and on light stands away from native habitat.  This has its risks and drawbacks too.

Ex situ conservation is most useful if all plants are identified not only by species, but also by origin.  Collection numbers (e.g. GRF numbers for the Gesneriad Research Foundation, MP numbers for Mauro Peixoto, and AC numbers for Alain Chautems) are valuable information, and should be retained with the plant.

The cactus family has its ex situ conservation champion in Mesa Garden, of New Mexico, which offers, for many species, several varieties of seed with information about seed origin.  The Gesneriad Society seed fund, being an all-volunteer enterprise, is not on the Mesa Garden scale of sophistication, but hardly anything is.  Our seed fund is as good as we make it, so please do your part.


Even hybrids, especially primary hybrids, can do their bit for the cause of conservation.  Here's how it works.

Suppose you have a seedling of Sinningia conspicua.  It's got conspicua chromosomes from each of its parents (hopefully, not the same plant).  Each chromosome is like a recipe book.  The recipes tell the plant how to make the proteins it needs.  Other recipes tell the plant which ones to make.  A sinningia plant will have 26 recipe books, but they aren't completely different.  Instead, they come in pairs.  There will be two copies of "Carioca Catalysts" and two of "Ubatuba Enzymes".

Mostly, the two copies of "Carioca Catalysts" will contain the same recipes, word for word.  A few may differ.  One may call for oregano, the other for marjoram.  This variation may or may not be visible in the plant (the "phenotype").  In any case, the second copy of "Carioca Catalysts" is mostly redundant.

A primary hybrid, however, has two sets of recipe books which are not the same.  Sinningia cardinalis x conspicua received one set of "Carioca Catalysts" from its cardinalis parent, and one from its conspicua parent.  Each of its copies of "Carioca Catalysts" will not only have different versions of a given recipe, they will contain some recipes not found in the other copy!  In a sense, Sinningia cardinalis x conspicua has not just one recipe book but two.

Thus, a primary hybrid can help to preserve more genes per unit of growing space than a species.  The down side to the hybrid is that there is no straightforward way to pull the conspicua genes (recipes) out of the hybrid plant.  And each subsequent generation gets further and further from the wild genes.

The Upshot

If you have a million bucks to spare, buy some sinningia habitat and preserve it.  Failing that, grow species from seed and distribute them.  With limited space, grow primary hybrids too.