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The Gesneriad Society – The Early Days
What has become The Gesneriad Society began with a story read by Elvin McDonald in the November 1949, issue of Flower Grower magazine about the florist gloxinias being bred by Albert Buell in Eastford, Connecticut. In 1951, after he’d had some disappointing results in trying to grow gloxinias in his little lean-to greenhouse on his parents’ farm in the Panhandle of Oklahoma, he wrote a letter to the editor of Flower Grower, asking that anyone interested in forming a society, based along the lines of the American Begonia Society, should write to him. This request resulted in hundreds of letters. Elvin McDonald was 14 years old at the time.

One of the letters was from a beautician and passionate gardener, Peggie Schulz, who lived in Minneapolis. She offered to help in any way she could, and since Peggie was a frequently published writer on the subject of gardening, Elvin invited her to be his co-editor of the new magazine, christened THE GLOXINIAN, a name inspired by The Begonian. Peggie remained as co-editor through 1961.

Elvin McDonald

Among the charter members and his correspondents at the time were Harold E. Moore, Jr., who headed the Bailey Hortorium, in Ithaca, New York; Paul Arnold, the founder of Ansco films; W. W. Coates, Jr., the inventor of glass blocks or bricks, and eventually of the Frito; and a young man from Chicago who founded Midas Muffler. Elvin was also mightily encouraged by Gretchen Harshbarger, then garden editor of American Home magazine, and a niece of seeds- and nurseryman Henry Field. The summer that he was 16 years old, he spent a week or so with them. 

When Elvin was in Kansas City, he always stayed with Vera and Horace Dillard, whom he met through the Missouri Branch of the American Begonia Society. Vera became the first president of the Society and Horace acted as membership secretary. 

By the time he was sixteen, Elvin was representing the society at various meetings throughout the United States. By the time he graduated high school the American Gloxinia Society, by then formally constituted, had over 3,000 members.

Today, Elvin is Botanical Educator and Ambassador Emeritus for the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden.


The Gesneriad Society – The First Ten Years

(Adapted from an article by Michael Riley in THE GLOXINIAN, First Quarter 2001 issue)

In 1954 the American Gloxinia Society was incorporated in the State of Missouri and bylaws were finally established. The first financial statement showed about $600 in the bank. During the 1957 International Flower Show in New York City, an information booth for the American Gloxinia Society was staffed by Paul Arnold, President Wil Mitchell, Mr, and Mrs. Bruce Thompson and Irwin Rosenblum, while Al Buell sold gloxinias upstairs. The show was visited by 150,000 people. 

The first society convention was held in 1954. The second, hosted by Al and Trudy Buell in Eastford, Connecticut, was held in 1957. The society held its fiftieth convention in Rochester, NY in 2006.

In 1958, Elvin, now married and living in New York City and Editor of Flower and Garden, hosts a meeting in his apartment for AGS members who might be interested in forming a chapter. Sixty people attend an April meeting at the New York Botanical Garden where the Greater New York Chapter (now the Greater New York Gesneriad Society) is born. Although not the first chapter, it eventually became one of the largest and most active ones. 

By 1961 the membership roster of the society listed Charles Marvinny (later to become president), Adele Zemansky (later to become treasurer), Mrs. Charles Webster, Mrs. Erastus Corning II, Charles Marden Fitch and Dr. Thomas Talpey of Puerto Rico (later to become president), among others. 

Now over fifty years have passed since the founding of the society. Presidents and other officers have come and gone. But what has been a constant is the diversity of the growers and enthusiasts. THE GLOXINIAN, now GESNERIADS, has been the consistent communication among our them – the voice of the novice, the professional, the taxonimist, the horticulturist, the propagator, the industry, the hybridizer, the botanist, the collector, the traveler, the grower of gesneriads. 

The Gesneriad Society – The Chapters

(Adapted from an article by Arleen Dewell in THE GLOXINIAN, First Quarter 2001 issue)

Shortly after Elvin McDonald and Peggie Schulz starting publishing THE GLOXINIAN, people around the United States started organizing interest groups that met to discuss their growing successes and failures with gesneriads. Some of the first of these to take root were the Golden West Branch in San Leandro, CA in 1952 and a chapter in the Chicago area in early 1953. By the spring of that year, the Gloxinia Society of Greater Kansas City was born. 

The next decade brought a period of unprecedented growth to the society. Interests groups formed and many of them blossomed into official chapters of the American Gloxinia and Gesneriad Society. By 1968, there were about a dozen fully-fledged chapters. By 1986, the society was forty-two chapters strong. In 1996, a chapter was formed in Sweden, and is currently the largest chapter of the society. 

Chapters are the place where members and guests can meet and talk gesneriad face-to-face, exchange plants, put on small shows and just enjoy each other’s company. Find out if there is a chapter near you. Or, if you are interested in forming a chapter, email our Chapters and Affiliates chairperson to find out what you need to do. Grow with us – join a chapter!

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Did you know....
The founder of the Gesneriad Society, Elvin McDonald, was 14 years old at the time he founded the society.
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