Published on 10/19/17

'Bolivian Sunset': A dazzling, shady ground cover

By Norman Winter

Shady ground covers that bloom are sought-after in the gardening world, and ‘Bolivian Sunset’ is one of the most beautiful. The name itself conjures up visions of exotic colors.

‘Bolivian Sunset,’ known botanically as “Seemannia sylvatica,” is native to Bolivia and Peru. It also has another common name, “hardy gloxinia.”

This plant is cold hardy from zones 8 and higher, though everyone can enjoy it as a container plant to be enjoyed on the porch patio or deck and indoors, provided it has a shady or filtered-light location.

In Savannah, Georgia, it always seems to be in bloom, but a journey through my photos shows that I have always photographed it starting in September. Now that it’s mid-October, it appears to be in its full glory.

As a spreading ground cover in Savannah, our garden's hardy gloxinia has spread outward and formed a clump about 8 feet wide and deep. The plants themselves reach 12 to 18 inches tall, and I would like it even if it never bloomed.

The leaves are shaped like lances, leathery to the touch with a semigloss sheen. In a world of typically green leaves, the texture of this plant is much welcome in the garden. The flowers are dazzling. The tubular blossoms are a fiery orange-red with a yellow throat. They are produced in abundance on the multistemmed ground cover. The blooming commences in the fall — late August to September in Savannah — and will last until spring if not caught by frost. This is one reason why this is a sought-after houseplant.

In the landscape, it may die back in zone 8 depending on the winter, then quickly grow back. It spreads by underground rhizomes, which makes me think that it may have opportunities for growth in protected areas of zone 7.

Once you find yours, select a site with fertile, organic-rich soil that drains well. Ours is growing next to an old 1920s home that, though sandy, has had lots of organic amendments over the decades. Remember, however, the light requirements of morning sun and afternoon shade, or highly filtered light.

When grown in containers, you’ll notice it quickly fills the pot with leaves, blooms and a very rhizomatous root system that may seem to have devoured your lush potting medium. This means that, as you choose to repot, you can make more plants to give away or use in other locations.

In the landscape, it would partner extremely well with hostas and ferns for an absolutely lush and dreamy forest floor. We are growing ours in close proximity to shampoo gingers, or Zingiber zerumbet, and ‘Emperor’ hidden gingers for a tropical look.

As you might expect, tubular flowers can bring in hummingbirds if they are still active in your area when the flowers begin blooming. Hanging baskets or containers that are off the ground are more suitable. Here at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Garden at the Historic Bamboo Farm in Savannah, small bees and sulphur butterflies seem to be the most frequent visitors.

Not many ground covers are as pretty as ‘Bolivian Sunset’ gloxinia. I hope you’ll give it a try in your landscape or in a container to beautify your home.

Follow me on Twitter: @CGBGgardenguru. To learn more about the UGA Coastal Botanical Garden at the Historic Bamboo Farm, visit  

Norman Winter is the director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm in Savannah, Georgia.

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