A friend who is into gesneriads once gave me a 5-inch pot which contained about seven Vietnamese violet (Chirita tamiana) seedlings. She probably expected me to divide them, but--never having enough room--I continued to grow all of them in the same pot. I only was able to get away with that because this particular chirita isn’t supposed to exceed 3 or 4 inches in height.
My plants have stood taller than that at times, since they eventually develop long necks, as aging African violets do. When that happens, I lop them back a bit. They don't seem to mind the rude treatment. Since I have photos of them from 2008, including the banner image on this article, I'm guessing they are at least 9 years old.
Tovah Martin's chiritas may be similarly long-lived, since she includes them in her book titled The Indestructible Houseplant: 200 Beautiful Plants That Everyone Can Grow. One of her favorites is the yellow-flowered 'Aiko', which blooms all winter for her.
Chirita's tubular flowers somewhat resemble cape primrose (Streptocarpus spp.) blooms, generally in shades of purple, white, or yellow. The size and shape of the foliage differs according to species, with some cultivars having silver markings on their leaves. The plants can be grown in the same pots and potting soil recommended for African violets.
Although they are fairly new to cultivation, there are at least 150 species, so we aren't likely to run out anytime soon. Most chiritas actually have been reclassified as something else, with my Chirita tamiana first renamed Primulina tamiana and eventually Deinostigma tamiana. The yellow Chirita micromusa also pictured here now goes by Microchirita micromusa, which sounds like one too many micros! When it comes to plants, I prefer to stick to the names by which we were introduced, so I still say chirita.
Like most other gesneriads, these won't tolerate midday sun. Therefore, you should give them a position where they receive only morning or late afternoon rays, or place them behind a sheer curtain or under fluorescent grow lights. You’ll also want to water them with lukewarm—rather than cold--H2O to avoid getting ugly water spots on their foliage.
They prefer moderate temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and can be grown in a shady position outdoors in USDA zones 10 and 11. To sow them, scatter the very fine seeds over the surface of damp seed-sowing mix, pressing them only lightly into the surface without covering them. If you keep them at room temperature, they should germinate in one or two weeks. Chiritas also can be propagated from their leaves, as African violets are.
Mine are looking a bit burnt and grumpy just now, but most of my grow-light plants aren't at their best in February. The chiritas generally appear most lush when lounging on our porch during the summer, where they receive only bright indirect light, but lots of it. Under those conditions, they bloom constantly and often continue to flower for several months after being placed under the grow lights in autumn.
That makes the chiritas probably my blooming-est plants. Though mini, they are mighty performers.
Photos: The banner image is my own. The Chirita 'Aiko' image is by mellielong from the Dave's Garden PlantFiles. The cropped and enhanced Microchirita micromusa and Chirita 'First Time' images are by Tony Rodd and Al respectively, both courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons and this license. The antique image of Chirita walkeri is from Flore des Serres et Des Jardin de l’Europe, vol. 3, by L. Van Houtte, courtesy of plantillustrations.org.