Neotropical Gesneriaceae

Alain Chautems

Conservatoire et Jardin botaniques de la Ville de Genève, Switzerland. 


Adapted from Weber (2004), with pollen data from E. Gasparino (unpublished thesis, 2008).

Perennial herbs with basal scaly rhizomes, tubers or fibrous roots, subshrubs, small trees, vines, climbers or epiphytes. Leaves simple, opposite or in whorls, rarely alternate; green, sometimes reddish or with wine-red blotch on abaxial face, stomata scattered or in groups. Inflorescences of pair-flowered axillary cymes , pedunculate or epedunculate, bracteolate or ebracteolate, one to many-flowered. Flowers gamopetalous, zygomorphic, rarely actinomorphic, of various shapes, white or brightly colored. Stamens 4, rarely 5, staminode usually present, anthers cohering in pairs or all together, sometimes free. Nectary annular or consisting of 2 to 5 separate glands, free from the ovary wall, rarely reduced and non-functional, or completely lacking, sometimes replaced by an osmophore near the base of the corolla. Ovary superior, semi- or completely inferior, usually ovoid or globose, unilocular, placentae parietal, T-shaped in cross-section. Fruit a dry or fleshy 2-(rarely 4- ) valved capsule with placentae exposed as a central cone or split in two (display capsule), or an indehiscent white or colored berry. Seeds usually without surface ornamentation of testa cells, often striate. Seedlings isocotylous.

Notes on delimitation

  • The family forms a monophyletic group within Lamiales.
  • The subfamily Gesneroideae is exclusively neotropical.
  • 7 tribes are recognized, i. e. Beslerieae (BESL), Episcieae (EPIS), Gesnerieae (GESN), Gloxinieae. (GLOX), Napeantheae (NAPE), Sinningieae (SINN) and Sphaerorrhizae (SPHAE).

Distribution in the Neotropics

Some 1200 species, ca. 60 genera in seven tribes:

  • Achimenes Pers., GLOX/ 27: Mexico, C. America, Caribbean, N. South America.
  • Alloplectus Mart., EPIS/ 6: NW South America, Costa Rica.
  • Alsobia Hanst., EPIS/ 2: Mexico, Costa Rica.
  • Amalophyllon Brandegee, GLOX/ 5: Mexico, NW South America.
  • Anetanthus Hiern ex Benth., BESL/ 2: Colombia to Bolivia, C Brazil .
  • Bellonia L., GESN/ 2: Cuba, Hispaniola.
  • Besleria L., BESL/ 150: Widespread.
  • Chrysothemis Decne., EPIS/ 6: Caribbean, Guatemala to Ecuador, Guianas, N Brazil.
  • Cobananthus Wiehler,  EPIS/ 1: Guatemala & Honduras.
  • Codonanthe (Mart.) Hanst., EPIS/ 19: Widespread.
  • Codonanthopsis Mansf., EPIS/ 4: NW South America, N Brazil, Guianas.
  • Columnea L., EPIS/ 200: Mexico to Bolivia, Guianas, Caribbean, E Brazil.
  • Corytoplectus Oerst., EPIS/11: NW South America to Bolivia, Guyana, N Brazil.
  • Crantzia Scop., EPIS/ 4: Venezuela, Guyana, Caribbean.
  • Cremersia Feuillet & L. E. Skog,  EPIS/ 1: French Guiana.
  • Cremosperma Benth., BESL/ 21: Costa Rica to Peru.
  • Cremospermopsis L. E. Skog & L. P. Kvist,  NAPE/ 2: Colombia.
  • Diastema Benth., GLOX/ 21: Mexico, NW South America.
  • Drymonia Mart., EPIS/ 70: Widespread.
  • Episcia Mart., EPIS/ 8: Mexico to Peru, N Brazil, Guianas.
  • Eucodonia Hanst., GLOX/ 2: Mexico.
  • Gasteranthus Benth., BESL/ 38: Mexico to Bolivia.
  • Gesneria L., GESN/ 55: Caribbean.
  • Glossoloma Hanst., EPIS/ 22: Mexico to Bolivia.
  • Gloxinella Roalson & Boggan,  GLOX/ 1: Peru.
  • Gloxinia L'Her., GLOX/ 3: C & S America, Caribbean.
  • Gloxiniopsis Roalson, GLOX & Boggan/ 1: Colombia.
  • Goyazia Taub., GLOX/ 2: C Brazil.
  • Heppiella Regel, GLOX/ 4: NW S America, Venezuela.
  • Kohleria Regel, GLOX/ 20: Mexico, NW South America, Caribbean.
  • Lampadaria Feuiilet & L. E. Skog,  EPIS/ 1: Guyana.
  • Lembocarpus Leeuwenb.,  EPIS/ 1: French Guiana, Surinam.
  • Mandirola Decne., GLOX/ 3 : C Brazil.
  • Monopyle Moritz ex Benth.,  GLOX/ 18: Guatemala to NW South America.
  • Moussonia Regel, GLOX/ 12: Mexico to Panama.
  • Napeanthus Gardner, NAPE/ 18: Mexico to South America.
  • Nautilocalyx Linden ex Hanst.,  EPIS/ 51: Widespread.
  • Nematanthus Schrad., EPIS/ 30: E Brazil.
  • Neomortonia Wiehler, EPIS/ 2: Mexico, C. America to Ecuador.
  • Niphaea Lindl., GLOX/ 4: Mexico, C America.
  • Oerstedina Wiehler, EPIS/ 3: Mexico, C America.
  • Paliavana Vand., SINN/ 6: E Brazil.
  • Paradrymonia Hanst., EPIS/ 38: Mexico to Bolivia, Guianas, N Brazil.
  • Pearcea Regel, GLOX/ 17: Colombia to Bolivia.
  • Pheidonocarpa L.E.Skog, GESN/ 1: Cuba, Jamaica.
  • Phinaea Benth., GLOX/ 3: Mexico, NW South America, Caribbean, N Brazil.
  • Reldia Wiehler, BESL/ 5: Costa Rica to Peru.
  • Resia H.E.Moore, NAPE / 2: Colombia, Venezuela.
  • Rhoogeton Leeuwenb.,  EPIS/ 2: Venezuela, Guyana.
  • Rhynchoglossum Blume, Epithematoid/ 1: Mexico to Honduras, Costa Rica to Peru (only genus belonging to the paleotropical Epithematoid group with one species ocurring in the Neotropics).
  • Rhytidophyllum Mart., GESN/ 18: Caribbean.
  • Rufodorsia Wiehler, EPIS/ 4: Nicaragua to Panama.
  • Seemannia Regel, GLOX/ 4: Ecuador to N Argentina, Brazil.
  • Sinningia Nees, SINN/ 72: Mexico to S America.
  • Smithiantha Kuntze, GLOX/ 6: Mexico.
  • Solenophora Benth., GLOX/ 16: Mexico to Panama.
  • Sphaeorrhiza Roalson & Boggan,  SPHAE/ 3: C. Brazil.
  • Tylopsacas Leeuwenb., BESL/ 1: Venezuela, Guyana.
  • Vanhouttea Lem., SINN/9: E Brazil.

Distinguishing characters (always present)

Other important characters

  • Anthers often cohering at apex or side by side.

Key differences from similar families

  • Stipules never present, leaves never compound (vs. Bignoniaceae with compoubd leaves).
  • Latex never present (vs. Campanulaceae which usually has white latex).

Number of genera

  • ca. 60 genera.

Useful tips for generic identification

  • See Weber (2004); an addition to this classification was made with the newly recognized tribe Spaerorrhizae (Roalson et al, 2005)

Notable genera and distinguishing features

Achimenes, Gloxinia, Kohleria, Seemannia:

  • Flowers mostly reddish or purple.
  • Like other members of tribe Gloxinieae they possess perennial scaly rhizomes.


  • Flowers white.
  • Epiphytic.
  • Like many members of tribe Episcieae with fleshy leaves, sometimes growing in ant-gardens, and white flowers.


  • Strongly bilabiate and brightly colored corolla representing typical humming-bird flowers.


  • Ventricose and brightly colored flowers, often resupinate.


  •  Usually with well-developed basal tubers.


  • Some genera are cultivated as ornamentals (mostly indoor plants), and among the most popular are Achimenes, Codonanthe, Columnea, Gloxinia, Episcia, Kohleria, Nematanthus, Sinningia, Seemannia.
  • Plants are easy to propagate by cuttings or by seeds
  • They also hybridize easily within related groups and many cultivars are available.

General notes

Distribution and ecology: rain forest on mountain slopes with main diversity center between Colombia and Peru (over 400 spp.) and secondary centers in Central America (ca. 250 spp.), eastern Brazil (over 200 spp.), Guiana shield (ca. 100 spp.) and tropical Mexico (ca. 100 spp.).

Important literature

Roalson, E. H., J. K. Boggan, L. E. Skog. 2005. Reorganization of tribal and generic boundaries in the Gloxinieae (Gesneriaceae: Gesnerioideae) and the description of a new tribe in the Gesnerioideae, Sphaerorrhizae. Selbyana 25: 225-238.

Skog, L. E & Boggan, J, (2006). A new classification of the western hemisphere Gesneriaceae, Gesneriads 3: 12-19.

Souza, V. C & Lorenzi, H. (2008). Botánica sistemâtica, 2nd edition. Instituto Plantarum, Nova Odessa-SP, Brazil., p. 561-565.

Weber, A. in Kubitzki, K. (ed.) (2004), The families and genera of vascular plants, vol. 7, Dicotyledons, Lamiales (except Acanthaceae incl. Avicenniaceae), vol. ed. J. W. Kadereit, Berlin/Heidelberg, Springer, p. 63-158.

Weber, A. & L.E. Skog (2007 onw.): The genera of Gesneriaceae. Basic information with illustration of selected species. Ed. 2. [website with main features of each genus described; including good illustrations]

For additional illustrations and information on the Gesneriaceae family see "The Gesneriad Reference Web" by Ron Myhr at

How to cite

Chautems, A. (2009). Neotropical Gesneriaceae. In: Milliken, W., Klitgård, B. & Baracat, A. (2009 onwards), Neotropikey - Interactive key and information resources for flowering plants of the Neotropics.

Click images to enlarge

Flowering plant of Codonanthe calcarata © Denise Sasaki, Programa Flora Cristalino.

Habit of Codonanthe calcarata growing in an ant garden © Denise Sasaki, Programa Flora do Cristalino.

Fruiting plant of Codonanthe sp. © William Milliken, RBG Kew.

Flowering shoot of Codonanthe cordifolia © Alain Chautems, Conservatoire et Jardin botaniques de la Ville de Genève.

Plant in cultivation of Diastema vexans © Alain Chautems, Conservatoire et Jardin botaniques de la Ville de Genève.

Fruiting Plant of Drymonia serrulata © Denise Sasaki, Programa Flora Cristalino.

Flower of Drymonia serrulata © Daniela Zappi, RBG Kew.

Flowering plant of Episcia fimbriata © Denise Sasaki, Programa Flora Cristalino.

Gloxinia perennis in cultivation in Brazil © Armando Cervi, Universidade Federal do Paraná, Curitiba.

Flowering plant of Nautilocalyx forgetti © Denise Sasaki, Programa Flora Cristalino.

Nematanthus albus growing near Santa Teresa, Espirito Santo, Brazil © Alain Chautems, Conservatoire et Jardin botaniques de la Ville de Genève.

Flowering shoot of Nematanthus fissus © Alain Chautems, Conservatoire et Jardin botaniques de la Ville de Genève.

Flowering plants of Paliavana tenuiflora © Peter Gasson, RBG Kew.

Ramonda myconi in cultivation at the Geneva Botanical Garden © Alain Chautems, Conservatoire et Jardin botaniques de la Ville de Genève.

Sinningia brasiliensis growing near Camacã, Bahia, Brazil © Alain Chautems, Conservatoire et Jardin botaniques de la Ville de Genève.

Flowering plant of Sinningia elatior © William Milliken, RBG Kew.

Sinningia leucotricha showing tuber and flowering shoot © Alain Chautems, Conservatoire et Jardin botaniques de la Ville de Genève.

Vanhouttea hilariana growing in Ibitipoca Park, Minas Gerais, Brazil © Alain Chautems, Conservatoire et Jardin botaniques de la Ville de Genève.