Gesneriads: African Violet family

This is a large family of mainly tropical and sub-tropical herbs - many of them are interesting horticultural subjects.  It is very well represented in Malesia, although most are not cultivated due to rarity or cultural difficulty. The family produces many horticulturally desirable subjects but none are agriculturally of economic importance. 


Henckelia was previously placed in Didymocarpus, a East Asian genus now consisting of mainly deciduous types in seasonal locations.

This is an unidentified Henckelia from S. Malaysian state of Johore. It is very exacting in its demand, being found only on islands of large granite boulders scattered around the dense understory of the primary forest. It has rather stiff glabrous lance shaped leaves with undulating edge. The uniformly pale purple flower does not have any pollen guide for pollinating insects.   

The  rare Henckelia longipes is found only at Gunung Ledang, a small isolated mountain at the border of Johore and Malacca in Peninsula Malaysia. It has a long peduncle and small pale yellow tubular flower. The photo shows the natural habit of the plant, a stemless rosette growing amongst mossy boulders under dense shade. It is interesting to note that many mountains in Peninsula Malaysia exhibit a fairly high degree of endemism in their highland gesneriads taxa, with the physical isolation acting as barrier for their distribution. This renders the plants very vulnerable to even slight habitat disturbances

The widespread Henckelia platypus flowering in June. The flower actually has a pale purple tinge not visible in the photo. This plant is very similar in habit as H. crinita below. It is also the most common Henckelia in the lowland and the only one still found in Singapore.

This is the widespread Henckelia crinita, which is a medium sized herb with a hard stem bearing a rosette of hairy dark leaves with jagged margins. Many of the flowers I found do not open fully which is very puzzling. The photo is taken at Penang Hill.

Aeschynanthus, or lip stick plant, is a genus of ornamental epiphytes or lithophyes from East Asia, comprising of about 200 species according to Mary Mendum.  A few species, like A. parvifolius at the top photo, have been cultivated or hybridised as house plants in the West for a very long time. It is good on a hanging basket under bright humid conditions. The species below is an A. albidus, which has less showy  green flower and green leaves with pink underside. 

Next Gesneriads page

Back to main EAFW page