‘Li’l Georgie’ is a breakthrough of a lifetime in Sinningia

Sinningia 'Li'l Geogie' - photo: Gary K. Hunter

Sinningia ‘Li’l Geogie’ – photo: Gary K. Hunter

“The hybrid Sinningia ‘Li’l Georgie’ has proven itself to be a tough plant. Other micro miniature Sinningias such as S. pusilla, S. pusilla ‘White Sprite’ or S. concinna do not grow well without the added humidity of a terrarium. However, S. ‘Li’l Georgie’ is extraordinary in that it doesn’t need the extra humidity”, states Gary K. Hunter in his article ‘Why Sinningia ‘Li’l Georgie’ is the Sinningia Breakthrough of a Lifetime’ in the October issue of Gleanings. Gleanings is the monthly newsletter from US based The Gesneriad Society, Inc. With permission of Gary Hunter this article also is published now on newPlantsandFlowers:
Good news about an ordinary houseplant
Sinningia ‘Li’l Georgie’, a primary hybrid between the extra small species S. concinna × S. muscicola, was created by Jim Steuerlein in Florida and distributed in 2009. Through observation it has become apparent that S. ‘Li’l Georgie’ is an ordinary houseplant. And that’s good news. This is the breakthrough that was always needed for this group of tiny plants to gain acceptance as a usable commercial plant. Although the smaller species are almost too small to handle in the retail environment, S.’Li’l Georgie’ is a little bigger and more rugged. Most gesneriad collectors seek out new plants and test them for wherever their interest lies – growing for fun, hybridizing, or growing for show. Gesneriad Society members reading this will want to experience Sinningia ‘Li’l Georgie’ for themselves. On the other hand, casual plant buyers are unaware of the intrigue. They don’t know that this tiny flowering plant is a dramatic breakthrough. They see it, they buy it, but after admiring it, most people don’t know what to do with it. Miniature gardening may be the draw.
Miniature Gardening
Miniature gardening is a new segment of the commercial plant business. Many garden centers are creating retail space showing finished miniature gardens, as well as selling ‘mini’ plants and accessories to make your own. When buying plants for a miniature garden, gardeners want a tiny flowering plant to fit into their scene, but there are very few appropriate plants on the market. They are surprised to find Sinningia ‘Li’l Georgie’ and happy with how it looks.
Tissue Culture
Sinningia ‘Lil Georgie’ has many advantages, but for wide distribution, one major shortfall. There are no practical means of large-scale propagation other than tissue culture. In 2011, Mary Schaeffer and I were collecting plants for The Gesneriad Society Convention in Philadelphia, which was hosted by the Liberty Bell Chapter. We contacted Dr. Jon T. Lindstrom, Associate Professor of Horticulture at the University of Arkansas, to get some of his new Sinningia hybrids. From that relationship, Jon propagated several Sinningia varieties in his tissue culture lab for me. I quickly focused on Sinningia ‘Li’l Georgie’. Jon proved that he could successfully propagate it by tissue culture and I proved that I could root the plantlets he shipped me. We were to the point of large-scale production when Jon was diagnosed with stage four melanoma cancer. His death was a stunning and sad loss.
I am currently working with a new tissue culture lab, Dan River Plants, and expect to be able to introduce Sinningia ‘Li’l Georgie’ to the commercial horticulture trade soon.
The Breakthrough
As a partner in Y Combinator, a start-up incubator, Paul Graham constantly evaluates new business ideas. He says to ask the question, “Why now?” If this is such a great idea, why hasn’t someone else already done it? Ideally, the answer is that it only recently became a good idea, because something changed, and no one else has noticed yet. Will S. ‘Li’l Georgie’ be the second most successful Sinningia in commercial horticulture behind the Florist Gloxinia? It could be. In fact, it could become the leading flowering plant in the Miniature Gardening category – the most significant breakthrough of my lifetime.

Gary owns nursery Gary’s Specialty Plants in Drumore, Pennsylvania (US). He decribes his nursery as a very small greenhouse business producing unique plants for very special retail customers. His motto is: ‘Nobody does what I do with plants; they could, but they don’t’.