Sinningia polyantha
aka sp. "Waechter"
aka "dunensis"
aka "arenicola"

polyantha: top
  1. Description
  2. What's in a name?
  3. And what about Desafinado?
  4. Light vs. Darkness
  5. Hybridization
  6. Feature table
  7. Publication and etymology

This plant is a tough, sun-tolerant sinningia which is very popular with the Anna's hummingbirds (Calypte anna) which frequent my yard.  The flowers are open in May and June (late spring in the northern hemisphere) and are visited by these birds at least once an hour, even though they aren't as impressive to the human eye as some other sinningias.  At a guess, I would have to say that this is the sinningia species most attractive to hummingbirds in my back yard.  You can tell when a hummingbird is pleased with a plant, because it will visit almost all the open flowers, instead of sampling just one and flying off to another plant.  By this measure, Sinningia polyantha keeps the hummingbirds happier than, say, S. douglasii or S. leucotricha.

This species provided another service in my back yard.  I had a couple of plants positioned near a waterbowl for goldfinches to drink from, and one of the finches perched on a tall stem as a lookout while another sipped from the bowl.

Description

This species has hairy tough leaves in pairs or whorls of three.  The flowers are borne in the axils of the upper leaves, which get progressively smaller up the stem, the topmost being only about 1 cm long.

The flower is a straight tube, dusty red on the outside, and white on the inside, with a dark purple streak on each lobe.  The top two lobes overlap, giving the appearance of a single lobe.  During the male phase, the anthers are held right up against these overlapping lobes.  In all these respects, except for the white tube interior, the flower closely resembles that of S. douglasii.

The habitats, however, could not be more different: beach margin for S. polyantha, temperate forest epiphyte for S. douglasii.

What's in a name?

Sinningia polyantha was originally published by De Candolle (a big name in botany) as Gesneria polyantha in 1839.  It was not in cultivation, but the species was transferred to Rechsteineria by Kuntze in 1891 and then to Sinningia by Wiehler in 1981.  When the plants discovered along the Atlantic coast were brought into cultivation, they were given the holding name "sp. Waechter".  The name first suggested was "dunensis", but that was shot down because "dune" isn't a Latin word or a place name, as the element before -ensis must be.  Next Alain hinted that he would assign it the name "arenicola", a fine species epithet based on "arena" (Latin for "sand") plus "-cola" ("living in or on").

Unfortunately for that plan, Alain determined that the new material matched the description of the mostly-forgotten S. polyantha.  "Unfortunately" applies on two counts.  First, "arenicola" was a perfectly appropriate name, expressing the unique character of this plant.  Second, "polyantha" is not a perfectly appropriate name, since it means "many flowers", and S. polyantha is not any more floriferous than plenty of other sinningias.  Even so, the tyrannical rules of botanical nomenclature mean we're stuck with it.  Polyantha it is.

Some sinningias are more Waechter than others

A different plant has been grown under the name S. sp. "Waechter".  When I sowed seed from the AGGS Seed Fund, I two different kinds of plant.  The first, described above, matched what Alain Chautems had applied the name sp. "Waechter" to.  The other had somewhat similar flowers, but otherwise was quite different.  Both varieties came true from seed.

Because of a number of differences described, I gave the second group of plants the name "Desafinado".  This has now been published as the species S. ramboi.

A comparison page has a table and some pictures to demonstrate the differences between the two types.

The picture at the top of the page shows the true "arenicola" with all the flowers originating from the node -- that is, no peduncle.  The flowerstalk of S. "Desafinado" has a peduncle.




 
polyantha stalks

Light vs. Darkness

This photograph shows what a plant does when there is not enough light.  Both plants are in 5" (13 cm) pots.  The stalk on the left is 9 inches (23 cm) tall.

Both plants are S. polyantha.  The only difference was that the pot on the left spent the winter in a sealed container with a bunch of other tubers, while the pot on the right was sheltered from the rain but not in the dark.

One can imagine two strategies for a plant in darkness.  First, make as much photosynthetic (leaf) surface as possible, to capture every possible photon. Second, put every bit of reserved energy into extending a stem, in order to get above whatever has been shading it.

Plants have had millions of years to choose between the two strategies, and the photograph makes it clear which strategy was the winner.  Especially when the plant has a substantial energy store, such as a tuber, the odds are much in favor of making a long stem rather than large leaves, but even newly-sprouted seedlings show this behavior.  It should be noted that the strategy was evolved during the millions of years before sealed plastic tubs existed.

 

Hybridization

Jim Steuerlein crossed this species with Sinningia conspicua and got this attractive flower.  The plant is tall, however, which detracts from its suitability for indoor gardening and makes it somewhat top-heavy.

The appeal of these flowers suggests that Sinningia conspicua should be crossed with more compact relatives of Sinningia polyantha, such as Sinningia rupicola or Sinningia douglasii.

poly x consp


Feature table for Sinningia polyantha

Plant Description

Growth Indeterminate
Habit Upright stem(s).
Leaves Green, hairy
Dormancy Stems fully deciduous

Flowering

Inflorescence Flowers borne on a platform inflorescence
Season Blooms in spring, summer
Flower Coral, tubular, corolla limbs small, dark streaks on inside of corolla

Horticultural aspects

From seed Two years to bloom, under my conditions
Hardiness Has survived 30F (-1C) in my yard
Recommended? Yes, with reservations.  Easy to grow, but the flowers aren't as attractive as those of the related S. douglasii and S. "Desafinado".

Hybridization

Hybrids with this species See listing.

Botany

Taxonomic group The douglasii group of the Dircaea clade.
Nectaries Two, dorsal, fused into a single unit, with a seam between them only on the dorsal (adaxial) side
Location Grows along the coast of Santa Catarina state, Brazil.


Publication and Etymology

De Candolle 1839 (as Gesneria polyantha).  Wiehler transferred it to Sinningia in 1981.

Chautems confirmed it in Candollea, 2010.

Etymology: From Greek poly- ("many") + anthos ("flower").