This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V21", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
The Gloxinia has now become a general favorite with all lovers of flowers, and the vast number of fine varieties raised from seeds of the first, of the upright sorts Fyfiana, has created quite a stimulus for the cultivation of this fine herbaceous stove plant; a few hints therefore, in the Monthly may not be out of place for the successful cultivation of this fine exotic. After flowering, the bulbs should be sparingly watered, and when completely at rest the pots containing them be laid on their sides to secure them from any water lodging on the crown of the tuber. The most desirable place for storing them during their season of rest is in the vicinity of hot-water pipes or common smoke flues. On the return of the growing season when they show signs of returning life, they must be turned out of the pots and the old soil shaken from the tuber, still retaining the fibrous roots of the previous season. They may then be potted in clean pots in the following mixture of equal parts of loam, peat, leaf mould and sand well mixed; the leaf mould may be the greater portion of this compost, as in their native country, which is chiefly equinoctial America, they are found growing in the woods where the earth is little more than a bed of rotten leaves and bark.
The whole of this beautiful natural order Gesneraceae containing Gesneria, Codonophora, Penteraphia, Sinningia, Besiberia, and Gloxinia may be successfully grown in the above mixture; but I find in regard to Gloxinia, that when grown for a number of years the tubers get worn out, and the plants naturally get stunted and shabby and covered with rust. I would therefore suggest that a yearly supply be raised from seeds selected from the finest of the sorts contained in a collection, and in view of being successful in getting a fine brood of hybrids, let all the finest sorts be placed close together so that the flowers may be in close proximity to one another; in this way they have every chance of being impregnated, one with the other, and in view of raising new varieties let the pollen of Gesneria, Sinningia and other genera as nearly allied be dusted on the stigma of the plants chosen for impregnation. It may seem strange to some of our successful hybridizers of plants when I state the circumstance that the parent plant of Gloxinia Fyfiana was profusely dusted with the pollen of Digitalis purpurea, Lophos-permum scandens, Datura Wrightii, Brug-niansia sanguinea.
The former two species belonging to the natural order Scrophulariaceae and the latter two to Solanaceae; this may account for its taking the erect form of in-floresence which several of the genera of these orders have a part. In thus relating my experience in the interesting study of the hybridization of plants, I am aware that I am treading on dangerous ground, and that it is a subject fit for a genius such as a Jussieu or a Lindley to unravel. [The Editor dissents of course].
In following out my hints on the cultivation of the Gloxinia, in raising a stock of young plants, let the following suggestions be followed out. Having procured some seed pans, let them be drained with broken pots, and let the drainage be covered with some of the siftings of decayed leaves; the pans may then be filled with the mixture recommended for growing the plants to about one inch of the top of the pan, filling the rest of the space with some of the same soil to within one-half inch of the top; this last addition of soil must be very fine, having been put through a fine sieve. When all is compressed and firm, the seeds which are very small may then be rubbed on the surface of the pans, and if any covering be added it must be of the slightest nature and very fine, - something like dust. As the seedlings progress, and when they can be handled, they should be removed from the seed pan into other prepared pans or boxes, putting them in promiscuously, giving space to increase in size, placing them in shady frames on a damp surface.
When they arrive at a considerable size they should be removed singly into pots and then shifted from size to size, potting with the same soil recommended above for large plants, until they arrive at maturity, which if carefully attended to may be in the Fall of the same season. They may as they progress be copiously supplied with manure water, filtrated from any sediment, as I have used water strongly impregnated with night soil, to great advantage. I have now only to add a word or two in regard to the treatment of the plants until they arrive at full maturity and in full bloom. They should never be placed on wooden stages, as I find that these recep-ticles are not fitted for plants of any tribe in this arid climate, the wood often getting so warm that you can scarcely touch it with the hand; the natural consequences are that the heated surface of the wood acts on the foliage of the plant, and as it were, sucks all the substance out of the foliage. I have been consulted with about the rust that overtakes the Gloxinia, and have always given the opinion that this is the first cause of the disease.
If any one will look at the under surface of the leaves of a Gloxinia that is infected with rust he will invariably find that the leaves so infected when seen through a glass have the seared appearance of being placed above some heated surface. This is 1 think the first cause of the disease that attacks this favorite tribe of plants, and the natural consequence of the loss of the vital principle is the attack of thrips and red spider. The leaves are also of a lanuginous texture and should be carefully guarded against exposure to the rays of the sun when suffused with moisture. In concluding these brief hints on the cultivation of this beautiful exotic, I may state that some fine specimens of seedling Gloxinias were to be seen this Summer in the fine collection of plants grown at the residence of Professor Sargent, Brookline, which Mr. Sanders, the gardener, informs me were treated much the same as recommended in this article, having been always kept in rather shady situations, and always on a damp surface; the effect of which resulted in large plants with beautiful foliage, having erect flowers beautifully marked in the throat and limb of the corolla.
Since writing these brief hints on the cultivation and hybridization of the Gloxinia, I have seen a notice of Gloxinia Fyfiana in Mr. Bur-bidge's celebrated work on propagation and hybridization of plants, in which he states that it is supposed to be a cross between speciosa and caulescens. I do not wonder at the uncertainty of its origin, as I have never stated until now how the parent plant speciosa was treated, and which I have no doubt will be criticised by many readers of the Gardener's Monthly. Mr. Williams is quite correct in his statement of it being the first of the upright varieties, as he is well acquainted with the floriculture of the "West of Scotland, being in the habit of exhibiting his fine collections of stove and greenhouse plants at the meetings of the West of Scotland Horticultural Society. The date is also correct when it was raised, I having at that time the charge of the fine collection of stove and greenhouse plants contained in the gardens of the late Thomas D. Douglas, Esq., Rothesay, Isle of Bute.
I may here state that I was rather unfortunate with the disposing of the plants, my employer having given me permission to dispose of it for my advantage. Having been called on to officiate as a judge at a meeting of the Dunoon Horticultural Society, and having a plant of Gloxinia Fyfiana in fine flower, - a very large plant, circumference about four or five feet, - which proves what the Gloxinia tribe can be grown to from rich feeding. I took it with me for exhibition, and for which I received an extra prize', there being nothing to equal it in the fine collections competed for that day; it was the admiration of all present. It was unfortunately left in charge of the guardians of the society during my absence at the dinner given by the society to the judges; and during that time some one had managed to pluck a quantity of leaves from it, and before the end of the season plants were sold for a sovereign each, (or at least, if my memory does not deceive me, in an amazingly short period from the time the cuttings were taken) by some of the London nurserymen, and figured by the late Sir William Hooker in the Botanical Register with the highest praise by that distinguished botanist.
In conclusion I cannot help quoting the words of that eminent botanist the late Professor Lindley. He says : "Hybridizing is a game of chance played between man and plants. It is in some respects a matter of hazard, and we all know how much more excitement is produced by uncertain than by certain results. What increases the charm of the game is that although the end of it may be doubtful, yet a good player can judge of the issue with tolerable confidence, and that skill and judgment have in this case all their customary value".