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Terrestrial or epiphytic perennial herbs, subshrubs, shrubs, small trees or lianas, sometimes arising from tubers, scaly rhizomes or stolons, rarely acaulescent; above ground stems sometimes annual, usually terete, erect, ascending, pendent or scandent, branched or not, usually pubescent at least towards apex, and often producing adventitious roots. Leaves estipulate, usually petiolate, opposite, rarely whorled or alternate, simple; blades equal to strongly unequal in a pair, membranous, fleshy or coriaceous, entire to variously toothed, often at least pubescent, stomata scattered on lower leaf surface or rarely in clusters (only Napeanthus). Inflorescences derived from cymes, but sometimes in modified racemes, occasionally fasciculate, or reduced to a single flower, axillary or terminal, usually pedunculate, bracteate or not. Flowers perfect, often protandrous, usually zygomorphic, rarely nearly actinomorphic; calyx lobes free or connate, (2 or 4)5, equal or unequal, usually imbricate, green or colored, entire or variously toothed; corolla with a short or long tube of 5 connate petals, variously colored, often oblique in calyx and gibbous to saccate at base, cylindric, ventricose, or ampliate above, limb of (4)5 equal or unequal lobes, sometimes 2-lipped, erect or spreading to reflexed; stamens usually adnate to base of corolla tube, 4, with or without staminode and usually didynamous, or rarely 5, included or exserted, usually coiling or retracting after pollen shedding, anthers more or less coherent at first, thecae dehiscing by pores or longitudinal slits; disc annular, or of 1-5 separate or connate nectariferous glands, or rarely absent; pistil 2-carpellate, ovary superior to inferior, 1-loculed, placentae parietal, ovules numerous, style simple, stigma usually 2-lobed or stomatomorphic. Fruit a berry, or a dry or fleshy capsule, 2- or 4-valved; seeds numerous, more or less fusiform or oblong, very small, usually striate.


Guianas present, Neotropics present, tropical regions of the world present, warm temperate areas present
Widely distributed in tropical regions of the world, rarely reaching into warm temperate areas; about 2600 species in about 130 genera; in the Neotropics about 1200 species; in the Guianas 60 species in 20 genera.


  • Napeanthus jelskii Fritsch


  • Besleria flavovirens Nees & Mart.
  • Besleria penduliflora Fritsch
  • Rechsteineria crenata Fritsch

New synonyms:

  • Besleria maasii Wiehler to Besleria patrisii DC.
  • Besleria verecunda C.V. Morton to Besleria patrisii DC.
  • Chrysothemis villosa (Benth.) Leeuwenb. to Chrysothemis pulchella (Donn ex Sims) Decne.
  • Columnea aureonitens Hook. to Columnea sanguinea (Pers.) Hanst.
  • Columnea calotricha var. austroamericana C.V. Morton to Columnea calotricha C.V. Morton
  • Columnea calotricha var. breviflora C.V. Morton to Columnea calotricha C.V. Morton
  • Columnea steyermarkii C.V. Morton to Alloplectus savannarum C.V. Morton


Plants of GESNERIACEAE are widely cultivated as pot-plants or ornamentals, and known mostly for the 'African Violet' (Saintpaulia spp. and cultivars) and the 'Florist's Gloxinia' (Sinningia speciosa (Lodd.) Hiern and cultivars). Occasionally escaping from cultivation in the tropics, plants rarely become naturalized in the Guianas.