Sinningia sellovii

  1. Variety 'Purple Rain'
  2. Ups and downs on the inflorescence
  3. Resupination
  4. Leaves
  5. Comparison between normal type and 'Purple Rain'
  6. Yellow flowers
  7. Horticulture: pinching
  8. Tuber and growing in the ground
  9. Homeland
  10. Hybridization
  11. Feature table
  12. Publication and etymology

This plant is very easy to grow.  It tolerates a wide range of light conditions.  The leaves are attractively quilted and not easily damaged. The stem arches as it elongates, and the flowers hang vertically from it.

Sinningia sellovii

Variety 'Purple Rain'

The common variety of Sinningia sellovii has green leaves and dusky red flowers.  The variety 'Purple Rain' has darker, narrower leaves, sometimes with reddish backs, and purplish flowers.  As the picture below shows, the exterior of the corolla lobes is somewhat brownish.

Ups and Downs

The above picture also shows two interesting features of Sinningia sellovii in bloom.  First, the flowers hang vertically, but the pedicel is not straight, but rather has a bend near the base.  This is because of resupination, which we will discuss further below.

The other point of interest is that the fruits do not hang vertically.  Instead they are held above the stem, which means that after pollination, the pedicel has to untwist and stiffen, in order to bring the fruit into the correct position.  In this, Sinningia sellovii is kind of the anti-amambayensis: Sinningia amambayensis holds its flowers in normal position, but twists the developing fruit down under the stem after pollination.



The picture at the right shows a closeup of the flower of S. sellovii 'Purple Rain'.

Technically, the flower of S. sellovii is resupinate.  When a flower hangs straight down, it's not so easy to tell whether it is resupinate.  In the picture to the right, note that the anthers are up against the paired corolla lobes which would be the top of the flower if it were held horizontally -- the other lobes are the opposite lobes held out to the side and the fifth one held directly toward the camera.  However, if you unbent the pedicel so that this flower was held horizontally, the anthers and paired "top" lobes would be underneath.  Ergo: resupinate.

I have seen a hummingbird visiting the flowers on this plant.  The bird approached the plant from the "natural" direction, that is, facing the stem, not with its back to the stem.  In this position, the pollen would be deposited on the bird's chin, not its forehead or upper beak as would be the case with most hummingbird-pollinated sinningia flowers.  This would presumably help to ensure that this species is not pollinated by pollen from other sinningia species.

If the flower is successfully pollinated, then the developing fruit is brought to a normal horizontal position, above or to the side of the stem.  It must therefore desupinate (I don't know if that's a real word), the pedicel untwisting to bring the fruit into the "normal" position.

Purple Rain flower
Sinningia sellovii


The leaves of this species are distinctive, with a characteristic stiff, quilted texture.  This makes S. sellovii one of the few sinningia species that can be reliably recognized just from its foliage.

This picture shows the normal variety, with fairly stubby leaves.  S. sellovii 'Purple Rain' usually has longer, narrower leaves.

Comparison between varieties

The photo at the right shows the flowers of both the normal type of Sinningia sellovii (on the right) and its variety 'Purple Rain' (on the left).  The corolla tube is darker, the spotting is more intense, and the hairs on the tube are longer.


This picture shows more of the hairiness and the spotting.  It can be seen that the pattern of the spotting is roughly the same and that the sizes of the spots are similar; the intensity of the color contrast is the main difference.

Here is the 'Purple Rain' flower cut open.  It is interesting to note that even the staments are spotted.  It is unlikely that there is any benefit to the plant of having its stamens spotted -- suppressing the spotting is probably more complicated than leaving it in.

The white blotch on the corolla at the upper left is pollen which accidentally got smeared on the flower.

flower cut open

Yellow Flowers!

sellovii: yellow

Judging by the horizontal stem, resupinate flowers, exserted anthers, and typical calyx, this is Sinningia sellovii.  Compare it against the picture at the top of the page.

But yellow flowers???

One of the benefits of maintaining this web site is the correspondence I get, often with the message, "Here's something you haven't covered yet."  Even for species.

Case in point.  Nancy Newfield sent me the following message, with the above photograph.

One of the more interesting plants is a Sinningia sellovii that flowers a slightly paler pink with a pale yellow corolla, but as temperatures rise in summer the flowers become butter yellow. This plant was grown from a cutting of a plant grown from seed I had sent to a fellow hummingbirder... I didn't notice any mention of a similar plant on your site.

The photograph was taken by Joan Garvey.

Horticulture: Pinching to encourage bushy growth or more flowers

Pinching to cause branching is ineffective with most sinningias.  Many have determinate growth and therefore do not branch above the tuber.  Even those with indeterminate growth will often just start (at most) one new stem from the node just below the point where the growing tip was cut out.

Sinningia sellovii makes side shoots spontaneously, once plant has has begun blooming on the main shoot.  Unfortunately, as both Jon Dixon and I have observed, these side shoots do not flower.

It could be that these shoots would bloom if the growing season were long enough.  At any rate, this raises a question: would cutting back the main shoots early in the season cause branching and thus a bushier plant with more flowers?

The Experiment

In the spring of 2010, I cut back the five main stems on a plant of Sinningia sellovii 'Purple Rain' to a couple of nodes above the tuber.  The plant then put out two new shoots from the node just below the cut on all five stems.  In addition, the node below the top node put out one or two shoots on all five stems, resulting in a total of 17 shoots.

So the plant was bushier.  That was the good news.

The bad news was the flowering story.  As of this writing [August 2010], only a couple of shoots had initiated any flowerbuds at all and then only in small numbers.  None of the flowerbuds were close to opening.  Meanwhile, both the normal variety and 'Purple Rain' had been blooming for at least a month.

My hypothesis: a shoot of Sinningia sellovii must reach a minimum length, maybe 20 cm [8 inches], in order to bloom.  The side shoots on an unpinched plant never reach this length in my area and under my conditions, so we never see flowers on those side shoots.  I am going to see flowers on some of the shoots from the pinched plant because they had time to reach the required length, but even so, the delay combined with many of the shoots not reaching the required length will mean that I will get fewer flowers than I would have had I not pinched.

[Note that the experiment did give me five cuttings to root.]

Tuber and growing in the ground

A number of people have reported growing this species in the ground.  With age, the tuber gets very large.  Grown in this way (which I have not yet done), the plant is reportedly quite hardy, tolerating winters on the mid-Atlantic coast of the United States.

The Sinningia sellovii tuber is an amorphous lump (see a picture).


In 1999, the Gesneriad Research Foundation expedition saw this species blooming on hillsides just below Iguassu Falls, very close to the point where the borders of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina meet.  The falls are overwhelming, so wide they seem to go on forever.  Despite the grandeur, we managed to find a little attention for the sinningias.

[Iguassu, written Iguaçu in Portuguese, would be accented on its final syllable, as are all Portuguese words ending in -u, unless overridden by an accent marker elsewhere in the word.  The pronunciation would therefore be approximately ee-gwa-SOO.]  In the Tupí language, i-guassu means water-big, which is a huuuge understatement.


Sinningia 'Demon' is Sinningia sellovii x elatior.  It represents one sort of solution to the no-flowers-on-branches problem discussed above.

Feature table for Sinningia sellovii

Plant Description

Growth Indeterminate
Habit Upright or arching stem
Leaves Heavily quilted, stiff, green (sometimes a maroon reverse in cultivar 'Purple Rain')
Dormancy Stems fully deciduous


Inflorescence extended axis
Season Flowers in summer
Flower Dusky red or purplish, tubular, pendant.  Anthers slightly exserted.

Horticultural aspects

Hardiness Has survived 28F (-2C) in my yard.
Recommended? Yes and no: easy to grow but not spectacular.  'Purple Rain' is more attractive than the standard species.


Hybrids with this species See listing.


Fruit Ball-shaped with a short beak.  Almost entirely enclosed by calyx.  Green until ripe.  See picture above.
Nectaries Two, brown, connected, dorsal
Taxonomic group The first core subgroup of the Corytholoma clade.


As Gesnera sellovii by Martius, in 1829.
As Sinningia sellovii by Wiehler, in 1978.