Friday, 9 June 2017

In Flower: Sinningia leucotricha

Sinningia leucotricha
This beautiful plant is known in known in its native Brazil as Queen of the Abyss, but it is sometimes sold as Brazilian Edelweiss as its leaves resemble in some ways those of the (totally unrelated) alpine Edelweiss.

There are numerous species of Sinningia distributed between southern Mexico and Northern Argentina, with the groups centre of distribution in southern Brazil. The genus belongs to the Gesneriaceae, a family which also includes such popular house plants as African Violet (Saintpaulia) or Streptocarpus.

S.leucotricha originates from rocky outcrops in the subtropical Parana province of southern Brazil. It is deciduous, shedding its leaves during the dry season and regrowing from its tuberous caudex when the rains return. It has a highly restricted distribution in the wild, with a total known area of occurrence of only 80km2. As a result it must be considered an endangered species, as indeed are many other related Sinningia species with similarly restricted distributions. Main threats would be fire, overgrazing especially by goats, and climate change.
Augastes scutatus
The tubular red or orange flowers of this and many other species of Sinningia indicate that they are pollinated by hummingbirds. Which particular hummingbird species are responsible for pollination in nature is not on record, but species occurring in the area which are known to frequent the habitat type include Augastes scutatus and Phaethornis pretrei among others.
Phaethornis pretrei
The dense hairs covering the leaves are an adaptation to reduce water loss and also protect the leaf from the effects of the blazing Brazilian sun. This is the reason for their resemblance to the Edelweiss of the Alps, where desiccation is also an issue as water is unavailable for much of the year as it is in the form of snow and only liquid water is of use to a plant.

The pollinated flower produces a capsule full of minute seeds which are probably distributed by wind or rain splash. In cultivation they are fairly easy to grow but take several years to reach flowering size. My plant has a tuber around 7cm across but old plants can allegedly reach nearly 30cm across, by which time they must be decades old.

(image of plant is mine, hummingbird images from Wikipedia)

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