Houseplant of the month

Episcia: Origins, Varieties and Growing Tips

Photo by Hans Hillewaert.

This summer I bought an unidentified episcia in a hanging basket, because the plant has beautiful leaves and flowers. Despite my best efforts, I was never able to identify the cultivar. In the course of my research, I discovered that it was a variety of plant that can really look different! Since I didn’t know its needs, I took the opportunity to do some research and write this article.


Episcias are native to northern South America, specifically Colombia, Brazil and Venezuela. In the wild, they are herbaceous ground covers, meaning they produce no trunk, growing low to the ground in tropical jungles. Various species of episcia belong to the genus Episcia, part of the Gesneriaceae family. Other plants in this family, such as Nematanthus and Aeschynanthus, were plants of the month on the site. Episcia’s best-known cousin is undoubtedly the African violet (Saintpaulia). In fact, there’s a certain family resemblance between them.

Although their low hardiness greatly reduces their use in most countries, episcias are used as ornamental ground cover in the tropics. Photo by Patrice78500.

In English, they have a single, little-used nickname: flame violet.


Episcias are small plants, about 20 cm (8 in.) high and 30 cm (12 in.) across. The leaves are hairy and cover a wide range of colors.

Episcia quickly produce numerous runners, like saxifrage or strawberry plants, which are creeping or drooping. These stolons in turn produce more than one miniature episcia.

During flowering, the plants are covered with several small, bell-shaped flowers with five open petals. They are typically red, but other colors can be seen depending on the species or cultivar.

This close-up of an unknown cultivar shows the detail of the leaves, here particularly hairy. Many episcias have red flowers, but this one is pink. Photo de PEAK99.


There are between 7 and 10 recognized species of episcia (the number depends on the author), as well as numerous cultivars and hybrids. To complicate matters, the same plant can have an appearance that varies according to the conditions in which it grows. On the market, it is rare for the plant or its parentage to be identified.

E. cupreata is sometimes considered the “basic” episcia, and most hybrids are derived from this species and E. reptans.. Photo par Daderot.

So there’s an incredible variety of episcias to suit all tastes. They are distinguished by several characteristics.

  • Leaf color: episcias started out with green leaves, ranging from pale, luminous green to dark, almost brownish green. Hybridization has led to the development of rose-tinted episcias, sometimes so far from green that they appear incapable of photosynthesis. Episcia cultivars range in color from pale metallic pink to crimson!
  • Reflections: leaf color can be influenced by reflections, more or less metallic, making them silvery, coppery or reddish. Episcia ‘Silver Skies’ is so metallic that it appears almost entirely silver.
  • Variegation: some episcias have leaves variegated with white, pink or alternating shades of both. The variegation makes these episcias particularly variable.
  • The underside of the leaves is often green, but can also be red or copper-purple.
  • Vein color: episcia leaves have veins of a color that contrasts with that of the leaf blade. Sometimes it’s just the midrib that stands out, sometimes it’s the lateral veins, and in some cultivars, the midrib and lateral veins can be of different colors, forming a plant with tricolored leaves. Margins can be silver, white, pink, pale green or neon green.
  • Leaf margins: sometimes in a contrasting color to the leaves, such as pink or almost black. For example, the cultivar ‘Gold Digger’ has almost black leaves, hemmed with a metallic pink margin.
  • Flower color: in most cultivars, flowers are usually bright red, but they can also be more orange, pink, lavender, white, cream or even yellow, although this color is rarer. Finally, flowers can be bicolored, with a slightly bluish center, petals with a colored outline or flowers with some petals standing out. The flowers of the cultivar ‘Temptation’, for example, vary between yellow, orange and red.
  • Petal shape: some cultivars have hairy or serrated petals, like the cultivar ‘Star of Bethlehem’.
As you can see, there’s something for everyone. Photo par Karl Wimmi.

Particularly Interesting Features

As cultivars multiply the various characteristics outlined above, some are particularly breathtaking. One of the most famous, E. ‘Cleopatra’, has pale green leaves, spotted with white and hemmed with a bright red stripe. Many other cultivars have evolved from this one, probably with a view to changing the color of the flowers, as their red does not match that of the leaves. The cultivar ‘Ember Lace’ solves this problem by offering pink flowers on green foliage variegated with pink.

To complicate matters, two similar cultivars can look quite different. Depending on growing conditions, especially light, and the genetics of the plant itself, hues can be darker or lighter, and vein, rim or variegation colors can vary. As if to underline this characteristic of episcias, one cultivar bears the apt name of ‘Unpredictable Valley’.

Before embarking on the cultivation of particularly colorful plants, it’s worth noting that plants that aren’t green are considered more difficult to maintain than the basic species, which is already not easy. The rest of this article contains tips on how to keep episcias healthy.

As cultivars and hybrids have become mixed up, it is impossible to draw up a complete list. Most episcias are therefore unidentified. Photo de Feloidea.

Growing Tips

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Episcias are rather flexible when it comes to light. They can tolerate bright light, but fear the heat and dryness caused by direct sunlight. Accustomed to undergrowth, medium light is sufficient for them, and they can also survive well in bright artificial light.


The potting soil should be kept slightly moist at all times, but not soggy. The plant’s leaves curl up and dry out quickly if it doesn’t get enough water. In cold months, it’s important to use lukewarm water, as the plant’s roots (and the plant in general) are very sensitive to cold. As with other plants with hairy leaves, it’s best to avoid getting them wet.

Atmospheric humidity

Humidity is necessary for episcias to survive in the house. During the drier months, particularly winter in the northern hemisphere, it may be necessary to enclose the plant in a terrarium, glass cloche or plastic bag. Humidity of over 50% is considered the minimum required by the plant.

Like many plants that need humidity, episcias are particularly sensitive to air conditioning. As well as drying out the air, air conditioning produces a draught, whereas in their usual environment, the tropical undergrowth, the wind is practically always absent.Photo par Mokkie.

Terreau et rempotage

A very light, porous substrate is recommended; similar to that for African violets works well.

As far as repotting is concerned, although they grow fast, episcias accept being a little tight in their pot and only need repotting when they are particularly disproportionate to their substrate.


They can be fertilized with an all-purpose fertilizer during the growing season, at half the recommended dose. However, as episcias are sensitive to the accumulation of mineral salts in the soil, frequent cleaning is appreciated.


Episcias are very cold plants, best kept between 18°C (64°F) and 27°C (81°F). According to some sources, they can withstand temperatures as “low” as 15°C (59?), but must be left in drier soil, which can also damage them. Despite these temperatures, episcias fear central heating, which dangerously reduces humidity in the ambient air.

Fortunately, most homes maintain temperatures between 18°C (59°F) and 27°C (81°F)! Photo par Psyberartist.


Episcias require very little maintenance. No pruning is required, and they don’t go into dormancy. To wash the leaves, avoid water and opt instead for a dry brush. The most difficult thing is to get them to survive in dry conditions.

For more information to help them get through the winter, read this text.


Episcias are very easy to propagate, since they produce their own miniature babies at the end of the runners – and they do so very quickly. As the runners are difficult to handle, being both rigid and very breakable, it may be necessary to detach them from the mother plant and place them in potting soil. Fortunately, the seedlings root quickly.

They can also be cut with a leaf attached to a petiole. They are then treated like African violets.

This photo by Nadiatalent clearly shows the stolons, to which small seedlings are attached.


  • Almost all insects find these pretty plants delicious. They can be attacked by mealybugs of all kinds, spider mites (especially in low humidity), thrips, aphids and cyclamen moths. Pest management is made all the more complicated by the fact that leaves are sensitive to most of the products used to control them.
  • Leaf spots: these are caused by cold water splashing onto the leaves. They may not be aesthetically pleasing, but they are not harmful.
  • Curled foliage: atmospheric humidity too low or soil needs watering.
  • Dry, crunchy foliage, especially at leaf margins: atmospheric humidity too low.
Toxicité: les épiscias ne sont pas toxiques pour les humains, les chiens et les chats. Photo par Krzysztof Ziarnek.

Conseils de présentation

With their drooping runners, it’s hard to conceive of episcias as anything other than hanging plants. They are also good terrarium plants, at least initially, as they grow fast and can take over space, especially where humidity is high.

Fancy pots, like this one, are great for episcias, which always end up looking messy with various stolons of different sizes. Photo by Aris Riyanto.


Even after writing this article, I still don’t know the name of the cultivar of episcia I bought, but I do know why it’s been suffering so much since it’s been in my care: the humidity doesn’t suit it. It’s normal, it’s winter, which is the worst time of year with the heating on. It’s not an easy plant. After all, you have to pay the price for the great beauty of episcias!

Photo par Rumi Borah.

Colin Laverdure has no qualifications other than his last name (Laverdure is French for "the greenery") and a slightly excessive passion for plants of all kinds, but particularly for houseplants. When he's not watering his personal collection, he's interested in writing fiction or singing with his choir.

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