SMITHIANTHA (temple bells) is a small genus of four or five species. They are plants for only temporary display, however, because the flowering season is followed by a several-month-long period of total dormancy. All species have a root system growing from several scaly rhizomes, each of which can grow 2 inches long and 1 inch in diameter, and from which rise simple or branched stems bearing opposite pairs of hairy, heart-shaped leaves with sharp-toothed edges. The tubular, pendent flowers are about 2 inches long, with a five-lobed mouth, and are borne on short stalks placed alternately along the stem above the leaves, thus forming a terminal flower spike. Flowers normally appear in midwinter, opening in quick succession from bottom to top of the spike, and they remain attractive for at least one month.
S. cinnabarinahas stems 18-24 inches tall and dark green leaves up to 6 inches long and 5 inches wide; a dense covering of red hairs gives the leaves a velvet sheen. The brick red flowers have pale yellow or white bands on the lower side and in the throat, which, is spotted with pale red. The inner surfaces of the five lobes are spotted too, and have pale lines running back toward the throat. S.fulgida differs from S. cinnabarina in that it has plain green leaves and scarlet flowers with red-spotted yellow throat and lobes.
S. zebrina, which can grow 30 inches tall, has leaves up to 7 inches long and equally wide; they are dark green with brown or purple coloring around the veins. The outside of the flowers is red banded with yellow; the throat is yellow spotted with red; and the two upper lobes are orange-yellow and smaller than the three other lobes, which are yellow.
Note: Many hybrids are more useful as indoor plants than the true species, for they grow only 8-12 inches tall. Flowers are usually some shade of red, orange, or yellow, with differing patterns of spots and lines. Two popular examples: 5. 'Golden King' has gold flowers spotted with red, and S. 'Little One' has red-and-yellow flowers.
Light Smithianthas grow best in medium light, which can be provided either by shaded daylight or fluorescent tubes. Bright light can cause ugly, stunted growth.
Temperature Warm, humid conditions are essential. The temperature should not be permitted to fall below 65T, but care should be taken to avoid excessive dry heat. Smithianthas are good subjects for plant windows.
Watering Water moderately, but allow the top half-inch of the mixture to dry out before watering again. Overwatering, like dry heat, can cause leaves to turn brown.
Feeding Smithianthas need regular feedings of standard liquid fertilizer. Quarter-strength fertilizer at every watering is a good general rule.
Potting and repotting Use a soilless mixture such as three parts sphagnum peat moss, two parts vermiculite, and one part perlite, with the addition of a small amount of dolomite lime, lime chips, or crushed eggshells to reduce the acidity of the peat moss. Pot single scaly rhizomes in large half-pots when they are starting to sprout. Large pots are necessary because the shallow root system of smithianthas can be extensive.
Propagation The easiest way to propagate is by dividing the rhizomes into two or three sections before growth starts. Pot up each section and treat it as a single scaly rhizome. Another method is to grow new plants from seed sown very thinly on the surface of the recommended soilless potting mixture in early spring. If the mixture is kept evenly moist and placed in a slightly shaded position where a temperature between about 6o° and 70T can be maintained, germination should occur in a month. When seedlings have two to four leaves, separate them, move them on to other pans, and grow them as mature plants. As growth continues, move them on from 2-inch to 4- or 5-inch half-pots. They can be expected to flower nine or ten months after sowing.
Special points After flowering, let smithianthas die down and the rhizomes dry off. When thoroughly dry, shake them out of the pot, pack them in peat moss or vermiculite, and store until ready for potting.
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