Cape Primrose

Botanical Name: Streptocarpus x hibridus

Cape Primrose is a showy relative of the African violet. You can expect months of blooms if you keep the soil lightly moist and give it bright, indirect light year-round.

Hundreds of hybrids have been developed to offer some exciting new varieties with bigger flowers, longer blooming time, and more compact foliage. There are even some trailing and dwarf varieties.

cape primrose, streptocarpus

Long, deeply veined leaves grow in a rosette. Those leaves tear easily, so handle this plant carefully. If you happen to tear a leaf, don't be afraid to cut off the damaged part -- streptocarpus is very forgiving. Older leaves will shrivel and turn brown, this is normal. Cut off any old, withered leaves right away.

Above the foliage, tall flower stems carry clusters of trumpet-shaped blooms in shades of purple, violet-blue, pink, red, lavender, white and bicolors.

The flowers are velvety, often with contrasting veins or throat color. Flower size also depends on the variety, they may be 1-3 in (2.5-7.5 cm) across.

Shed some light. Cape Primrose is sensitive to day length and won't bloom if it doesn't get enough light. Find a place near a bright window for your plant, where it will get several hours of curtain-filtered sunlight. This plant really thrives under fluorescent lights, too. Use 1 warm white tube and 1 cool white tube under a reflector. Place flowers about 8 inches (20 cm) beneath the light for 15 hours a day.

Pinch off spent blooms. Flowers are sometimes followed by long, twisted seed pods. Remove dead flowers as soon as you notice them to encourage more blooms instead of using its energy to develop seeds. Cut flower stems back after the last bloom has faded.

Potting Tip

Don't set the plant too deeply in the pot. Keep the plant at the same level it was before because the stems and leaves may rot if they are too deep.

Repot every 6 months. You'll have a much healthier plant by repotting in spring and again in fall because the fast-growing tuberous roots quickly fill the pot. Streptocarpus is also sensitive to the build-up of salts from fertilizer and likes its "feet" in fresh, loose soil.

What size pot? This plant blooms best when slightly pot -bound, so go up a pot size only when needed. Use the root ball as a guide. A good rule of thumb is to choose a pot that allows only 1/2-inch (1.25 cm) space all around the root ball for a small plant and 1-inch (2.5 cm) for a larger plant. An azalea pot (also known as a half-pot) works well for streptocarpus to keep its roots snug. Make sure it has drainage holes to prevent soggy soil.

How to Repot: Remove the plant from its pot. Gently tease as much old potting mix from the plant as possible. You'll probably pull off a few of the soft, fleshy roots while doing this. Don't worry -- streptocarpus is a vigorous grower and will soon fill its pot with new roots. Are the roots packed tightly? Tease them apart with your fingers to open them up and help the roots grow into the new mix.

Treat your Cape Primrose well and you'll enjoy this blooming plant for many years. They're easy to propagate, too. Believe me, once you grow these beauties, you can't have just one.

Cape Primrose Care Tips

cape primrose, streptocarpus

Origin: South Africa

Height: Up to 1 ft (30 cm)

Light: Bright light or fluorescent light. Keep out of direct sun which can scorch leaves.

Water: Water thoroughly to wet all the roots, then allow the soil to dry out a bit before watering again. Soggy soil may cause root rot -- you'll notice the symptoms as leaves that look limp or turn brown around the edges. Cut back on watering in winter when growth is slowed, but do not allow soil to dry out completely.

Humidity: Moderate humidity. Mist foliage with room-temperature water or place pot on a tray of wet pebbles. Keep plant away from drafts.

Temperature: Cool to average room temperatures 60-70°F/16-21°C. Too-hot temperatures can cause the plant to wilt.

Soil: African violet potting mix.

Fertilizer: Feed every 2 weeks in spring and summer with high-potassium liquid fertilizer diluted by half. Take care to fertilize when the soil is already moist to avoid fertilizer burn.

Propagation: Cape primroses are among the easiest of flowering plants to propagate. Here are 3 ways to do it:

  1. Take leaf cuttings in spring or early summer -- the is an excellent site that will show you how step by step.

  2. Divide plants that have more than one crown (rosette) and pot them separately. (See repotting tips above.)

  3. Sow cape primrose seeds in spring. The seeds are tiny. The best way to handle them is to sprinkle the seeds from the seed packet over the already moistened seed starting medium, and do not cover seeds. Use a heat mat to maintain a constant 70°/21°C. Cover with clear plastic to maintain high humidity. Mist the medium lightly with room-temperature water every day (if necessary) to keep it moist, but not soggy. You should see those first seedlings poking up in about 10-14 days. Thin out smaller seedlings to give others room to grow. Remove the plastic and give your plants bright light. You can expect those gorgeous flowers about 6 months after sowing.

Buying Tip

Violet-blue 'Constant Nymph' was the first popular hybrid introduced decades ago. Since then, hundreds of named hybrids have become available. 'John Innes' is also popular for growing indoors, and may be pink, pale violet or purple.

Charming 'Falling Stars' is a semi-trailing variety covered with small, violet flowers.

cape primrose, growing primrose, streptocarpus

What's in a name?

A member of the Gesneriaceae family, Cape Primrose owes its name to its native habitat -- the Southern tip of Africa, and to its long, heavily textured leaves that look like those of the English primrose.

More to Explore

Like streptocarpus? Take a look at these close relatives:

African Violet

Lipstick Plant


Flame Violet

Goldfish Plant