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Thursday, 16 May 2013

Mystery Plant- Chrysothemis pulchella

Mystery Plant- Chrysothemis pulchella

Chrysothemis pulchella

Well one of the Mystery Plant has been identified by Susan Philipsand Shaini Philips who recognised it and identified it as Chrysothemis pulchella which is commonly known as Copper leaf as well as by the names Sunset Bells, Black Flamingo, and Chrysothemis.
Chrysothemis pulchella
 Susan and Shaini recognised it from their home gardens in Samoa.
Chrysothemis pulchella

Chrysothemis pulchella is a tender tropical plant belonging to the Chrysothemis Genus which includes six (6) species of which Chrysothemis pulchella is the most widely spread with the greatest variety. I have not come across any other cultivars yet but will keep my eye open.

Incidentally the Chrysothemis Genus is part of the Family: Gesneriaceae. This is the same family to which belongs the much more widely known Saintpaulia which is better known by its common name African Violet. Another familiar genus is that of Episcia otherwise known as Flame Violets.
Episcia (2 varieties)
At the moment I have two species neither of which I am certain of their actual species names. Of the plants I have one variety has green leaves with greyish-white markings along the veins while the other has darker almost burgandy leaves which in sunlight have pale green markings and Pink Flowers.
Episcia (unkown species)

The actual flower of Chrysothemis pulchella is bright yellow and does not last long. The bright orange calyx which people mistake for the flower are much longer lasting for which I am thankful for.

Yellow Chrystothemis pulchella flower (top) and withered flower (below)
Various sources as usual give a lot of details on how to grow it in temperate climates. But I have not been able to find much on growing it in the tropics which is a problem I have found when looking for information on growing tropical plants in the tropics.

Chrysothemis pulchella
Although it may seem unnecessary to provide information for growing tropical plants in the tropics such a view ignores the fact that although the plants may indeed be in a suitable climate it is important to know the sun/shade preferences not to mention, soil composition and water needs. Then of course there is vital information about propagation methods and dealing with pests and diseases which in the tropics are often numerous and without the winter killing off period that temperate climates have.

Chrysothemis pulchella
 In any case there is a plethora of documents, books, articles and on line information for growing not only tropical plants in temperate climates but plants from temperate zones in temperate zones so the paucity of information and resources for tropical horticulturalists is frustrating. That is one reason why I have been trying to compile some of this data from various sources. Fortunately I find that there are some Australian and New Zealand sources that provide information on growing tropical plants in the tropics.
Chrysothemis pulchella found growing at Tamumalala (Upolu, Samoa) on moss covered concrete wall.

The etymology of Chrysothemis pulchella is Greco Roman. The genus is named after Chrysothemis of Greek mythology, the daughter of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon while the species ‘pulchella’ comes from the Latin for pretty/beautiful.

Propagating Chrysothemis pulchella

Propagating Chrysothemis pulchella can be done when shoots appear where the flower bracts were (at the joint between the stalk and the leaf). I have successfully rooted several cuttings using this method which while slow is reasonable successful.

Chrysothemis pulchella shoots emerging a base of leaves.
I have done this with shoots that range between two (2) to five (5) inches. I just snip them off at the base and stick them in growing medium. I have equal success with river silt, soil and river sand.

Large Chrysothemis pulchella shoot growing at base of leaf
I prefer river silt and sand because they retain moisture without becoming waterlogged and if you over water the excess drains out quickly whereas with soil you need to be more careful to not over water or under water during the critical rooting stage. That is just my experience. Sometimes you can get lucky and have new shoots appear where you removed a shoot although I am not sure how normal this is.
Chrysothemis pulchella
I have not found any other method of propagating them although I suspect that they may seed although I have not seen any seeds. In the wild I have noted that they tend to grow on moss covered rock and do not have an extensive root system. I have been debating very carefully up rooting one of my long established plants to examine the root system. However, as I had some young plants in my nursery that had been attacked by some pest (probably a slug since I have noticed the African Snails avoid it), I decided to look at one of those.
Chrysothemis pulchella roots and rhizome

Above you can see the poor plant whose soft stem was practically eatten though. Note the dense bulb of root mass.
Chrysothemis pulchella roots and rhizome
Above you can see a close up of that root mass which even after washing it out was still not enough to be able to distinguish much. So I stripped away the fine stringlike roots and ...
Chrysothemis pulchella roots and rhizome

Just as described in various sources ... there was a rhizome!
Chrysothemis pulchella roots and rhizome with plantlet emerging from rhizome

On closer inspection I noticed a small plantlet forming at the base. According to some sources the plant's stem and foliage can wither and disappear during periods of drought but new shoots will emerge from the rhizome. Since the foliage and stem of this plant had been practically consumed by whatever has attacked it, the formation of the tiny plantlet illustrated this development/ability.

Pebble of the Ninja Cat Clan inspecting Chrysothemis pulchella rhizome

Then as always ny nosey assistants came in to inspect the rhizome for themselves (helpfully putting paw marks all over the clean sheet of drawing paper I had sacrificed in orfer to have a clean white background for these photos.
Ninja Cat Clan Kittens; Pebble (left) and Stoney (Right) Inspect Chrysothemis pulchella rhizome
First Pebble came and stuck his nose where it did not belong. Then Stoney came to see what all the fuss was about and finally Rocky turned up and proceeded to garb it and try to kill it, so I put a stop to their fun and games because I wanted to plant it and hopefully save it.

Rocky of the Ninja Cat Clan joins inspection of Chrysothemis pulchella rhizome

Then Serendipity struck as I decided to take some more photos of the Chrysothemis pulchellas I had in some pots on a shelf. I took some flower shots and then as I moved the pots to get them into the sunlight I suddenly noticed something that none of the sources I had consulted mentioned and for which I had not seen an pictures of.
Chrysothemis pulchella with rhizomes beneath plantlets growing on stem

As you can see in the photo above and the ones below, the shoots that have formed at the base of the leaves where they meet the stem have formed little balls which obviously are the rhizomes.
Chrysothemis pulchella with rhizomes beneath plantlets growing on stem
I had not noticed this before due to where the plants were situated and how they drapped over the pots on the sunny side.
Chrysothemis pulchella with rhizomes beneath plantlets growing on stem
In this one above you can see small nodules that look like little plantlets or perhaps roots developing.

Chrysothemis pulchella with rhizomes beneath plantlets growing on stem

Here is a nice close up of one of the nicest, biggest rhizomes with a plantlet growing out of it. I am not sure why the earlier shoots grew rather long and big but had no rhizomes and now I have all these rhizomes appearing.
Chrysothemis pulchella and Ferns

Perhaps the plants are older or perhaps they are under stress being in direct sun for a reasonable period of time and the plants are trying to ensure that they will be able to propagate and survive. Certainly a plantlet with a big rhizome would have a higher chance of surviving than a stem alone.
Although the plantlet cuttings did all grow they struggled a bit and I needed to move them to a shaded spot so they did not dry out.
Chrysothemis pulchella

If anyone has an explanation I would be fascinated to hear it. In anycase like they say you learn something new everyday and well if you keep your eyes open you will see thing that are right infront of you but that most people never notice.

Susan Philips: Identification of Chrysothemis pulchella
Shaini Philips: Identification of Chrysothemis pulchella

Additional Information:

Binomial Name: Chrysothemis pulchella

Common names: Copper leaf, Sun's Bells, Black Flamingo, Chrysothemis

Binomial Name: Episcia UNKNOWN

Common names: Flame Violet (English) Name (Language)

Binomial Name: Saintpaulia UNKNOWN

Common names: African Violet (English) violette africaine, voilette du Cap (French) violeta africana (Spanish)

  • Family: Gensneriaceae - Genus: Chrysothemis - Species: Chrysothemis pulchella
  • Family: Gesneriaceae - Genus: Saintpaulia
  • Family: Gesneriaceae  - Genus: Episcia
How to Know and Grow Gesneriaceaes, The Gesneriad Society

Gesneriaceae Wikipedia Entry
Chrysothemis pulchella Wikipedia Entry
Saintpaulia Wikipedia Entry
Episcia Wikipedia Entry

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  1. I know this post is old, but I would like to thank you first of all for helping me getting a name for this lovely plant. I have had no luck whatsoever in identifying it until today.

    My neighbour gave me a pot with this plant a 3 or 4 years ago, and it has happily grown in its pot since. I live in Brisbane, so I am not sure about how to grow the plant in tropical weather, but this is what I have done, and it seems to have worked.

    The pot is in a very shaded spot. There is some sun in the evening, but not more than maybe an hour or two at the most. I do not water it regularly, maybe once a week, and have only fed it limited amounts of seaweed/fertiliser.

    The plants dies back completely every autumn, and I tend to water it once or twice thru winter, even tho I have read (now that I know the name) that it is better to leave it dry. It starts growing again when the weather gets hotter and I start the watering again once I see the shoots. I haven't tried to take a cutting, but I am sure it can be done.

    Snails have occasionally eaten bits of the leaves, but other than that I have not seen any signs of disease or pests.

    With regards to repotting, that needs to be planned a bit up front. A lot of the roots are mushy like old potatoes (I actually thought they had a fleshy root to begin with), so it needs some delicate moving to not damage the new root system. I don't repot until I see new growth (I have only repotted once).

    In autumn I leave the plant to die down completely and rot there, and do not touch anything until everything above ground is dead.

    1. Thanks for your comments. They really are quite lovely plants. I got my first from one some volcanic rocks by the big water tank on our plantation up in the highlands of Tanumalala in Samoa.That is a rainforest / rain catchment zone I guess. And is very wet all year around. I planted that one at our old homestead at Alafua which is a a slightly lower elevation and get less rain during the dry season. I have been away from Samoa for three years now so I have no idea how they are doing. I just hope that all the ones I propagated and planted out into the gardens around the place have survived my absence.