Chrysothemis pulchella

cocoa lily


Chrysothemis pulchella

(Donn ex Sims) Decne. 1849

pronounced: kry-so-THEE-miss pull KELL-uh

(Gesneriaceae — the African violet family)


common name: cocoa lily

Chrysothemis is from the Greek χρυσος (chrysos), gold, and θεμις (themis), custom, law, the laws. In Greek mythology, Chrysothemis was a daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, and sister of Electra. Unlike her sister, she was a demure girl, and did not seek vengeance against their mother for having an affair with Aegisthus and then killing their father. Pulchella is the feminine form of the Latin pulchellus, beautiful little.

This is a tender tropical perennial, originating in Panama, the West Indies and Brazil. It is usually grown as a house plant or in a greenhouse. From spring to summer it is covered with very showy orange-red flowers. The bright yellow corolla, with some red striping or spotting, is about twice the length of the calyx, with a narrow tube and flaring lobes. The corolla is short-lived, lasting only a day or two, but the coloured calyx is very long-lasting and decorative. The leaves are ovate, large (10–25 cm long), the surface wrinkled and rough, dark green with a brown touch, and very ornamental; they are opposite, with dentate margins. The stems are thick and succulent, usually upright. The plant forms tubers at the base of the stem, and sometimes also in the leaf axils. The plant can produce a fruit (a capsule), but this is not often found in cultivation. Below about 15ºC the plant will usually become dormant. In the dormant stage it is quite hardy, and can survive a cold winter (almost down to freezing point), but all the leaves and stems will vanish.

Cocoa Lily prefers filtered light, and requires regular watering – it likes to be kept moist at all times, except when dormant, but it doesn’t like to be too wet at the roots. When it starts re-shooting in spring, it’s time to restart watering.

The plant is propagated either by dividing the tubers or from stem cuttings. There is a variety of this plant, ‘Copper Leaf’, with bronze leaves, the result of significant amounts of red pigment underlying the basic bright green.

It is difficult to think of this pretty little plant as a pest, but I have read reports from Puerto Rica that it can be stealthy and invasive there, and resists any attempts to banish it from the garden. It will resprout from any residual bits of tuber. It does not, however, seem to choke out other plants.


Photograph taken in Picnic Bay 2009
Page last updated 8th November 2018