Vanhouttea hilariana

  1. Feature table
  2. External link
  3. Publication and etymology

This vanhouttea never bloomed for me.  It grew to be a fairly large plant and survived several winters.  The foliage was mildly attractive, but the plant had the standard vanhouttea trait of dropping most of its lower leaves, resulting in stems which were 80% bare.

In general, vanhoutteas and paliavanas are more vulnerable to cold than sinningias.  Most will withstand 32 F [0 C] but not much colder than that. Vanhouttea brueggeri is just a bit hardier than the other species.

It's not easy to grow vanhoutteas indoors.  This is often the result.

V. hilariana is one of the "free calyx lobe" vanhoutteas, as opposed to the species like V. lanata, in which the calyx completely encloses the flowerbud (to see what is meant, check out the picture on the V. lanata page).

Because most vanhoutteas do not bloom easily outside Brazil, we have a page showing a comparison of the leaves of four vanhouttea species.


A seedling plant

This shows a young plant of V. hilariana.  There are two noteworthy features of this plant.

  • The seedling has a swelling at the base of the stem, similar to that of other vanhoutteas and paliavanas, and somewhat resembling the "swollen-stem" tuber of Sinningia barbata.  This could be a proto-tuber: perhaps the common ancestor of all the Sinningia alliance had accumulated some of the adaptations necessary for tuber creation.  This may also just be a thickening sometimes seen at the stem base of shrub species.  It is unlikely to be the residue of a tuberous ancestor, however, since the free-calyx-lobe vanhouttea clade, to which V. hilariana belongs, does not have any members with tubers.
  • The leafbacks have some amount of red, with the backs of the top leaves being entirely red.  This photograph was taken in 2003, but as the plants matured, they lost any trace of red on the backs of their leaves.  Some sinningias (e.g. S. reitzii) exhibit that sort of development too, with deep red leafbacks when young, with the amount and intensity of the red diminishing with age.  This is the only time I have observed it in a vanhouttea, however.

Feature table for Vanhouttea hilariana

Plant Description

Growth Indeterminate
Habit Shrub
Leaves Green
Dormancy No tuber


Season Summer (in Brazil)
Inflorescence Axillary cyme, usually one flower, on upper axils
Flower Red, tubular, 4-5 cm long, on erect pedicel.

Horticultural aspects

Hardiness My last plant of this species was killed in the winter of 2011-12 by a few nights with temperatures around 28 F [-2 C], even though the plant was relatively sheltered.  Up to that point, it had survived temperatures around 36 F [2 C].
Recommended? Not by me.  Sprawling growth habit plus cold sensitivity plus no flowers means I look for something else.  For those who want to grow a vanhouttea, my standard recommendation is V. brueggeri.


Taxonomic group The free-calyx-lobe vanhouttea clade.
Habitat Uplands of Minas Gerais state, just north of border with Rio de Janeiro state, Brazil.  Not far from locality of V. brueggeri.
Nectaries Five glands.

External Link

Mauro Peixoto's web site has a page about Vanhouttea hilariana.


The new species Vanhouttea hilariana was described by Alain Chautems in a 2002 paper.  It grows in Minas Gerais state of Brazil, near the border with Rio de Janeiro state, at an altitude of 1200-1600 m (up to about 5000 feet).

The plant is named after Auguste François César Prouvençal de Saint-Hilaire (1779-1845).  They don't make names like that any more.  Saint-Hilaire made the first collection of this species, in 1822.

(He wasn't the only important Saint-Hilaire in biology alive in 1822.  Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (1772-1844), usually called Geoffroy, was a famous zoologist who proposed that all animals were related, a principle he called "unity of plan".  In this he was closer to the mark than his opponent Cuvier.  This Saint-Hilaire is buried in the most famous cemetery in the world, the Pere Lachaise in Paris, along with Frederic Chopin and many other almost as famous people.)