What is Achimenes?

Alex Tree
Alex Tree
Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

Achimenes, a genus of tropical and subtropical perennial herbs belonging to the family Gesneriaceae, has about 25 known species of flowering plants. The name of this genus was derived from a Greek word that translates to suffer from cold. Most of the species in this genus can be found in Mexico, while the rest are native to Central America. Only one species, Achimenes erecta, naturally occurs in the West Indies. Wide cultivation has resulted in several species and hybrids being naturalized beyond their local range.

The common names for Achimenes plants include Cupid's bower, widow's tears, and magic flowers. Species in this genus are also known as hot water plants because it is a common belief that dipping the whole pot along with the plants into a container of hot, but not boiling, water can help promote flowering. In the subtropical regions, Achimenes species are grown outdoors as bedding plants. They are also extensively cultivated as greenhouse plants.

Most species and hybrids of Achimenes plants bear large flowers with colors ranging from white to deep red. Funnel-shaped flowers may vary from 1 to 3 inches (2.5 to 7.5 cm) in diameter and have a close resemblance to petunias and pansies. Abundant blooms flourish from late spring to fall. These plants have hairy leaves with colors that range from bright to dark green, with bronze undertones for some varieties. The rhizomatous roots of these plants have overlapping scales similar to that of a pine tree’s cone.

The minimum temperature required for Achimenes plants to thrive is 50º F (10º C). These plants grow well in light, humus-rich, well-drained soil. While in the active growth stage, keeping the soil moist and fertilizing weekly is highly recommended. Watering can be reduced when the flowers start to fade in early fall. Tubers, which grow at nodes along the stems or under the soil, will start to form as the plants enter the dormant phase.

Fragile tubers may be collected after the leaves have dropped. They can be stored for replanting in the next summer season and without watering in bags or pots containing vermiculite, sphagnum moss, or soil. Storage temperatures must be within the range of 50º to 70º F (10º to 21º C). In the following season, Achimenes plants may be replanted in rich, moist soil, and their sprouts will begin to show in early summer. The seeds can also be used for propagation, but the blooms will not show until the next year.

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