What are Streptocarpus?

Streptocarpus is the genus and subgenus name of a group of plants that are native to woodland areas of southern Africa.  They, as hybrids or species, now exist around the world as house plants.  They prefer a temperate climate, which makes most of New Zealand (NZ) ideal.  They are also known as the Cape Primrose.   
The most common Streptocarpus house plant is a perennial "rosulate", which means that it is made up of a basal "rosette" of leaves, from which sprout flower stems (as pictured to the left).
The five-lobed flowers are almost orchid-like in appearance, and seem to hover over the rosette like butterflies.  Streptocarpus now come in a range of colours, including reds, pinks, purples, blues, yellows, whites, and near-blacks. Multicoloured, striped, spotted, veined, double, and even fragrant and colour-change flowered varieties also now exist, as well as variegated-leaf varieties. Flower stems may be short or tall, leaves may be big or small, flowers may be full or dainty, and there may be one or many flowers per stem. But really, a picture is worth a thousand words; each one is different.
The plants described above are of the subgenus Streptocarpus of the genus Streptocarpus.  But the Streptocarpus genus has another subgenus, Streptocarpella, which is quite different in form.  Streptocarpella have more traditional stems and leaves - like a Coleus or mint.
The name Streptocarpus comes from Latin via Greek, where strepto = twisted, carpus = fruit, and refers to the shape of the seed pod (see right).
Streptocarpus are part of the Gesneriaceae family (Gesneriads), which also includes the well known African Violets, Gloxinias, and a whole host of other genuses.  NZ has only one native Gesneriad, Rhabdothamnus solandri.
 Side-on flowers Flower face-on
 An unripe, unopened Streptocarpus seed pod
The twisted Streptocarpus seed pod