Gesneria is a member of the subtribe Gesneriinae, a monophyletic lineage that has diversified in the Caribbean. Gesneria is the only genus of Gesneriaceae that is entirely endemic (restricted) to the Caribbean. It includes 65+ species and is the basis of the type genus (Gesneria humilis) for the family.

The initial discovery of Gesneria humilis in Haiti stems from the missionary Charles Plumier who explored the West Indies between 1689 and 1697. Plumier never visited Cuba, where Gesneria humilis grows in abundant populations along streams. In contrast, Gesneria humilis had not been documented in Haiti since Plumier’s initial discovery in the late 17th century. Laurence E. Skog and Tom Talpey made an account of the rediscovery of G. humilis more than 270 years after it was last documented from Haiti. A detailed description of their expedition and the rediscovery of Gesneria humilis can be seen in a 1971 article here.

Most Gesneria species are stout shrubs (ca., 1-2 m tall) with alternate leaves and tubular to campanulate red flowers. An exception to the shrub-habit includes several species with reduced woody stems and leaves in a basal rosette. Examples include Gesneria reticulata (from Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Haiti) and G. depressa (from Cuba). Additional habits include species that are obligate lithophytes (=plants that grow on rocks), especially on limestone outcrops in coastal regions. Examples of obligate lithophytes include Gesneria salicifolia and G. glandulosa from eastern Cuba.

The characters that unite all species of Gesneria are glabrous (= without hairs) filaments that are free from the corolla tube (i.e., no adnation). This combination of characters differentiates Gesneria from the closely related genus Rhytidophyllum. In Rhytidophylluym, the filaments are adnate (= fused) to the base of the corolla tube for 3-5 mm, and the lower region of the filaments are covered in dense pubescence.

Most species of Gesneria and Rhytidophylluym have not been evaluated using molecular sequence data, and that has made their classification challenging. Another ongoing reason for uncertainty in the generic classification of Rhytidophyllum and Gesneria is because several species are currently recognized as Rhytidophyllum, but have red flowers that appear like Gesneria. Please see the genus Rhytidophyllum for examples.

Gesneria is widely grown as a horticultural subject. Many species are adaptable to indoor conditions, and are frequently seen in flower shows. Hybrids have been made between species, as well as intergeneric hybrids with Rhytidophyllum.