Though called the flame violet, the episcia is not a violet, but a close relative of the African violet in the gesneriad family. I think this gorgeous plant is quite easy to grow so let’s talk about how to care for your episcia or flame violet.
As with all plants, knowing about the native habitat of the plant we want to grow gives us insight into what conditions they would prefer in our homes, not that we can recreate them exactly. This diminutive plant hails from the tropical regions of Southern Mexico, Brazil, and the West Indies where it grows under trees in the rainforest, spreading by stolons sent out from the main plant and eventually becoming a groundcover. It, therefore, doesn’t need full sun to bloom, but bright light and loves an eastern or western exposure or can be grown under lights.
Care Under Lights
I will admit though, my episcias under lights were looking a bit bleached out so I cut the time my LED lights were on during the day by a couple of hours and they are looking much better. Recently, I changed my fluorescent lights to LEDs and am still learning how to grow my plants under them. Episcia leaves are their best color in bright light, but too much light will bleach the leaves, so if that happens, move them to a shadier spot and the new growth should show its true colors. They did better under fluorescent lights where I could keep them on the edges of the light stand where they received less light. Fluorescent lights give brighter light to your plants in the center area of the bulb. The ends emit less light and the light fades as time goes by so most people change out their fluorescent lights every year or two because the light levels become less intense as time passes.
Two of my episcias are pictures above and below growing inside enclosed terrariums. The one above is planted directly into the soil of the terrarium, sharing the space with some ferns, and the stolons have spread out and produced new plantlets which are already growing into the media. Below, the plant is individually potted up and is residing inside a mini conservatory where its stolons hang over the side of the pot because they have nowhere to root and so often this plant is found to buy as a hanging basket.
Episcias are primarily grown for their fabulous foliage and are often called the “peacock plant”. Hybridizers have created some beautiful plants that don’t need flowers to bring attention to themselves. (They do flower though.) Many have patches of silver, copper, or pink coloring on their leaves. The foliage has an iridescence that makes them sparkle and I can imagine the dappled sunlight making them glisten on the forest floor as it shines down through the canopy.
Hybrid plants such as ‘Cleopatra’ above and ‘Pink Dreams’ below with their mostly pink foliage prefer to be grown in terrariums. The edges of their leaves will brown if they aren’t grown in the high humidity conditions a terrarium offers.
Episcias prefer a warm, humid environment and are often grown in terrariums for just that reason. They will grow in the temperatures we are comfortable in but would rather be kept over 65 degrees. (I lower my thermostat at night to 63.) If temps fall below the mid-50s your plant will react unfavorably and may even die. Keep the humidity up, as well by either using a pebble tray, humidifier or growing your plant in a terrarium.
These colorful plants are grown primarily for their foliage but they do send out small flowers in orange, red, pink, white, and even yellow as you can see below. The flowers are approximately 1/2″ to 3/4″ across and have five petals. If they are grown with the right light, warmth, and humidity, they could be continually in bloom, especially as the plants get larger and send out more stolons.
Episcias are beautiful plants and have recently become more accessible and I’ve seen them in local garden centers. If you can’t find one at your local greenhouse, check out Lyndon Lyon or Violet Barn. I’m sure you can also find them online from other sources, but I’ve purchased plants from both of these companies and been happy, so don’t want to recommend a company I don’t have experience with.
I hope you find an episcia and find growing it as rewarding for you as it is for me. These small, spreading plants are gorgeous with not only their foliage but their diminutive flowers.
Have a great week, plant friends! To learn more about other flowering houseplants, pre-order my new book, Bloom.