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, are now cultivated around the world.  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" plant, which means that it is made up of a basal "rosette" of leaves, from which sprout flower stems.
The flowers have five lobes (or 'petals') and hover above the plant 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.
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.  See the Streptocarpella page on this site for more info.
The name 'Streptocarpus' comes from Latin via Greek, where strepto = twisted, carpus = fruit, and refers to the spiralling nature of the seed pod (see right).
Streptocarpus are part of the Gesneriaceae family (Gesneriads), which also includes the well known African violets, florist 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