Excerpts of two articles published in
The Gloxinian - Vol. 50 Nº 1
First Quarter 2000

The Second GRF Expedition to Brazil

Dr. Hans Wiehler

Gesneriad Research Fundation.


Our 14th  annual GRF expedition, again to Brazil, was from April 15-30, 1999. This time we went to tropical sub-tropical or temperate southern Brazil, south of  big city of São Paulo to the States of São Paulo, Parana and Santa Catarina. Unlike other expeditions, our purpose was not to find new species, but to be impressed with the growing sites of gesneriads there, especially Sinningia, which Dr. Alain Chautems and Mauro Peixoto had already discovered previously. We just wanted to observe these sinningias’ native habitats and photograph them. Southern Brazil is an important locality for finding Sinningia, now a genus of about 80 species. We found and astounding number of 15 species of Sinningia on this expedition. There are actually more there.


The trip participants were sixteen: Elizabeth Glazebrook from Australia, Nagahide Nakayama from Japan, Tsuh Yang Chen, Gussie Farrice, Michael Horton, Carolyn Ripps, Barbara Shilkret and Wallace Wells, all from New York, Maryjane Evans and Jeanne Katzenstein from New Jersey, Alan La Vergne from California, Vivian Scheans from Oregon, Jewel Doering from Washington, Melissa McDowell and Hans Wiehler from Florida and Mauro Peixoto from Brazil.


This was a comparatively easy GRF expedition, with an extremely comfortable bus, giant Mercedes bus with a toilet, hot and cold water and even a small refrigerator. We ate good Brazilian food and at night-time we had comfortable hotels (one night even a grand luxury hotel) – quite different from Lumbaqui, Ecuador!


What sticks out of this 1999 GRF trip is, after a five-month interval of hindsight: the good, easygoing, joyful atmosphere among the group; the many “gesneriad” conversations; the fantastic experience of the monumental Iguassu Falls, the largest waterfalls on this earth (I still hear the thunderous roaring and see the mist rising); our finding of Sinningia sellovii there, misted, in bloom; in contrast, the severe habitat of Sinningia nivalis on bare rock in high mountainous terrain, cold (it had snowed there a week before), the bus slowing descending a dangerous winding narrow road with Mauro running ahead of the bus, guiding and also looking for tubers on the steep roadside cuts; and almost lastly, the habitat of Sinningia leopoldii near Garopaba, directly on the Atlantic coast, growing on gigantic, round, smooth boulders tumbled on the sandy beach, with lush tropical vegetation hanging over them (The GRF has a new tee-shirt featuring this plant; and finally I will always remember Mr. Hatschbach botanical plantation near Curitiba, and Mauro’s resourceful gesneriad greenhouse and family sitio near São Paulo.



Where are the Sinningias?

Alan La Vergne

 Once the late Marty Mines came to visit for an afternoon. I showed him Sinningia cardinalis, my S. reitzii hybrids and S. lineata. He looked at them all patiently, but finally said, “They are all very nice, but where are your sinningias?” By which he meant the miniature sinningias that he grew, propagated and hybridized. 

I was reminded of that story when I was looking at a Codonanthe and Nematanthus in Brazil. “ Yes, yes, very nice” I caught myself thinking “but where are your gesneriads?”  By which I meant of course, sinningias. 

Once we traveled almost an entire day without seeing a gesneriad, even one of those C************* things. But on the whole, Southern Brazil is sinningia-lover’s heaven. Since it was Brazilian autumn, many of the sinningias were going dormant, but we found several species in bloom.

 As I write this, I can see my Sinningia douglasii blooming just outside the back window. It has lustrous green leaves with red midribs, and purple-marked light red flowers. This plant is one of a crop of seedlings from AGGS Seed Fund seed, with the accession number GRF91188. The plant and its siblings were the fruits of a previous (1991) GRF expedition. In 1999 I was in the other end of the chain seeing S. douglasii growing in the wild.

 The encroachments of civilization have had a mixed bag of effects on wild plants. Mankind certainly destroys plant habitats. People also introduce aggressive new plants that displace natives. We saw ordinary Impatiens everywhere and a white ginger that was almost as widespread. 

But our intervention also creates new habitats for some opportunistic plant, and some of those exploiters are sinningias. Sinningia douglasii seems to be the most flexible and creative of the opportunists. We saw it growing on rocks, on tree trunks, on tile roofs and even sharing roost with a bromeliad. 

Other sinningias appeared to be exploiting roadcuts and similar niches created by human activities. But many sinningias grew in habitats and situations that were definitely endangered by the approach of human habitation. And nowhere were they the dominant vegetation.

 But first: Brazil. Despite their country’s economic problems (for which Brazil was hardly responsible), the Brazilians are friendly, helpful and cheerful. The weather was perfect. The scenery was wonderful. Even though nobody could understand my feeble attempts at Portuguese, I’m ready to go back. 

Second: gratitude. Thank you to Hans Wiehler and the Gesneriad Research Fundation for organizing the expedition. Muito obrigado to Mauro Peixoto for leading us to where we could see sinningias, for putting up with our incessant tourist questions, and for the hospitality he and his family extended us at his sitio.

Another muito obrigado to Jota (Jose Aparecido Silva) and Totó (Antonio Domingos de Morais), our drivers for taking excellent care of us and driving that comfy tour bus any unreasonable place we asked them to go. 

So here is a list of the sinningias we saw, and what condition they were growing in. I would not necessarily recommend trying to reproduce those conditions Lots of the plants we saw looked chewed-upon. I would not recommend trying to reproduce that either.

 S. allagophylla – This species grew low on rocky banks or along road-sides in full sun.  The places we found it were within 50 miles or so of the Atlantic coast. 

S. calcaria – The plants were in deep shade, on a steep slope, and in bloom. The tubers were wedged in among the rocks. I spotted them first. Because I knew my words would be preserved for posterity, I chose them carefully: “Hey look, orange flowers!” Of course Mauro led us to the hill, said go up this path, and by the way, don’t shake that tree, there’s a big nest full of nasty wasps in it. This species was growing near Caverna do Diabo, in the low mountains about 50 miles from the coast.

 S. canescens – We found tubers of these plants on vertical rock faces in partial shade near to tillandsias. These were in Vila Velha park, a “forest” of tall-standing stone pillars near Ponta Grossa, about 200 km from the coast. Nearby were plants of the adaptable S. douglasii. Also nearby were the adaptable coatimundis, rodents related to raccoons which take advantage of tourists.

 S. conspicua – Was blooming in the conservatory in the botanical garden in Curitiba. It is probably not native to conservatory, however, since most of the other sinningias we saw evolved in outdoor locations. We also saw it in cultivation at Mr. Hatschbach’s botanical plantation.

 S. curtiflora – These plants were growing in a meadow beside a road in full sun. The ground was moist at the time we were there. Sinningia elatior was also growing nearby. We later found S. curtiflora growing in a more shaded location alongside a dirt road leading to an old farm.

 S. douglasii – You (and everybody else on the expedition) say “duhGLAZZ-ee-eye”. Ugh. I say “Douglas-ee-eye” or “Douglas-ee-ee”, depending on my mood. But variations are only fitting: this is a versatile plant. We saw it at Vila Velha, growing on rocks. We saw it near Caverna do Diabo, as an epiphyte either on or next to a bromeliad. And we saw it growing on tile roofs and on trees at a recant (rest area) along the graciosa road. 

S. elatior – We saw many plants of this species,  in bloom, on a roadside near the meadow of S. curtiflora mentioned above. Another GRF side trip found it at Pedra do Garrafão. Like S. curtiflora, this is a tall growing species that appears accustomed to lots of sun. I have not had much success growing this plant.  

S. hatschbachii – We first found them growing in partial shade along a ridge halfway up a steep slope alongside the road, some were in bloom. Below them on the hillside were baby plants, probably seedlings from the plants above. This was a common pattern. Most likely the babies were doomed. At least we almost never saw any blooming plants lower down on the slope.

 S. leopoldii – Was found growing high up on cliffs along the beach near the town of Bombinhas. Many tubers were found clinging to the smooth rock faces, and one beautiful specimen was found in full bloom at the top of the cliff.

 S. lineata – Since this plant blooms in Brazilian spring, what we found were tubers or plants going into dormancy. The tubers were imbibed in rock along the banks of Rio Erval and in small patches of dirt on a rocky slope above the river. Several tubers were more than 12 inches in diameter and one over 18” in diameter.

 S. micans – We found this species on a steep, partially shaded rocky slope near S. schiffneri. The latter was in bloom, but the plants of S. micans had already gone dormant, and we found only tubers with a leaf or two still attached.

 S. nivalis – Was growing on the cliffs above a road which snaked down out of the mountains from São Joaquim to the town. As our tour bus crept down the winding road at three miles per hour, we could see the tubers above and beside us exposed on rock surfaces without much shade. Also there was a potted plant of S. nivalis in the restaurant we stopped at near the bottom of this road. 

S. reitzii – We found this species in a variety of situations: in deep shade near the entrance to Morro Preto caver, then along the road in partial shade. All these plants had magenta or reddish magenta flowers, unlike the “New Zealand” collection with red flowers. The plants were up to three feet tall. In my yard, S. reitzii does not die back to the tuber in winter; this might be true in Brazil also. 

S. schiffneri – Was the first sinningia species we saw on the trip. It grew about two feet tall on a moist, partially shaded, steep slope alongside a road near Peruibe on the Atlantic coast. The white flowers were quite large, and some of the leaves had attractive red undersides.

 S. sellovii – Was found growing on most shaded slopes near Iguassu Falls. The typical pendant  flowers were pale pink and/or pale cream green. 

S. warmingii – Was growing in same habitat as S. lineate. The plants had bloomed at the end of last year and only tattered leaves and some empty seed capsules remained.

 S. sp. nov. (“Waetcher” ined) (also temporarily referred as to S. “dunensis” as it was found growing on sand dunes at the beach). The tubers were happily growing with their roots directly in the warm sand. There did not seem to be much shade except from other scrub plants nearby. 

And that concludes my…

 What? Nematanthus? Okay, we saw some of them too. Nematanthus tessmanii was all over, and Nematanthus fans oohed and aahed over the different color of calyces found at different locations: pink and red near Caverna do Diabo, yellow and red and green at different points along the same road on which we found Sinningia hatschbachii. We found Nematanthus teixeiranus and N. fristchii on Pedra do Garrafão, N. fissus and N. wettsteinii near Graciosa Road, and N. maculatus near Morretes. Codonanthe gracilis and C. devosiana were encountered numerous times. We also saw two species of Napeanthus. N. primulifolius and N. reitzii, which are not particularly exciting when not in bloom. And finally we saw wonderful plantings of Gloxinia sylvatica in several different places, just covered with flowers, but none in the wild.

 There were many beautiful and interesting plants we found growing in Mauro’s greenhouse during our visit on one or our last days in Brazil.

One gesneriad especially worth mentioning is a new species of Sinningia that will be soon published with the name “nordestina”. It is alleged to be an annual sinningia! – no tuber, apparently. The spotted flowers were more like a Kohleria or a Smithiantha than a Sinningia. We hope to learn more about this plant in the near future.

 I write this final paragraph in October 1999. I have been transplanting seedlings of Sinningia reitzii and S. curtiflora.  The S. reitzii seedlings already have fat little ball-shaped tubers at the soil line. The S. curtiflora seedlings have smaller, elongated tubers well below the soil line. It is fascinating to observe the development of the youngster in relation to the circumstances that they parents grow in the wild 7000 miles away. Now as I look at these handsome little plants, I know some better answers to the question: “Where are the sinningias?”.



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