plant of the month
African violets are compact plants that have diminutive five-petaled blooms (single flowered) with tiny yellow centers. Semidouble varieties have more than five petals, and double-flowered varieties have 10 or more petals. Some cultivars have ruffled or fringed (wavy) petal edges.
Blooms rise on thin stems above a ro-settelike formation of leaves, which are typically round or oval but sometimes lance shaped; either green or variegated, sometimes with a reddish underside; fleshy (semisucculent); and velvet textured (hairy). The leaves also can have scalloped, ruffled, crinkled or serrated edges.
Hues include blue, blue-violet, purple (violet), lavender, red-violet, red, pink and white. There also are bicolored and multicolored varieties as well as speckled, striped and white-edged blooms.
With proper care and ideal environmental conditions—steady warmth, careful watering, good light, high humidity and regular feeding—these plants can last for years and will bloom continually.
African violets are available year-round.
in-store and consumer care
These plants require bright but indirect (filtered) sunlight. They will tolerate direct sunlight very early or very late in the day, but at all other times, they must be shielded from it. During winter months, African violets might need additional exposure to light, in which case, they can receive more or closer exposure to direct sunlight, or grow lights may be placed 18 to 20 inches above standard plants (10 to 12 inches above miniature varieties). Keep in mind, however, that in order to rebloom, these plants need at least eight hours of darkness each day, so ensure they get no more than 16 hours of light per day.
Keep the soil lightly and evenly moist—but never soggy. Water plants when the soil surface is dry to the touch with room temperature (never cold) water, and avoid using softened or highly chlorinated water. The best ways to water these plants are 1) by placing the pot in a tray of water and allowing the plant to absorb water for up to 30 minutes; 2) by using a “self-watering” device (capillary matting), pot or saucer; or 3) by carefully pouring water around the inside edge of the pot. It is important to never get water on the leaves or the crown (center) of African violet plants in order to prevent leaf spots, fungi and rot (see “Humidity” in this section).
These plants prefer average room temperatures (65 F to 75 F). Never expose them to temperatures below 60 F or above 80, even for short periods of time. They also require relatively even temperatures—no cold or hot drafts or sudden changes in temperature. Slight fluctuations between daytime and nighttime temperatures are acceptable and even desirable, but extreme variations should be avoided.
High relative humidity—at least 50 percent to 60 percent—is essential. There are several ways to provide the required humidity level.
• Mist the air around the plants, or lightly mist the leaves with a very fine spray of room-temperature water (a fine spray mist will not leave large water droplets that, when exposed to sunlight, will damage leaves).
• Place pot(s) on a pebble tray, or place containers of water around the plant(s).
• Group several African violet plants together to create a microclimate. Avoid placing them so close together that the leaves of different plants touch each other.
• Place a humidifier in the room.
Because high humidity is so important, good air circulation is vital in order to prevent the growth of fungi such as Botrytis and powdery mildew.
African violets are moderately sensitive to ethylene gas, so make sure your purchases are treated with an ethylene inhibitor at the grower or during shipping, keep them away from fruit and other produce, and take precautions to reduce levels of ethylene in your facilities.
Feed these plants regularly with a fertilizer formulated specifically for African violets (14-12-14 African violet food). Follow the dosing and frequency recommendations on the container. Soluble powders and concentrated liquids are the preferred types, as are quick-release formulations; avoid time-release fertilizers.
African violets need a certain amount of essential elements to grow and reproduce, but too much can be harmful. Overfertilizing can cause cracked or brittle leaves as well as lesions on the leaves.
Leach the soil about every three months to wash away any excess fertilizer salts that may have accumulated in the soil. Simply drench the soil with water until it becomes saturated (being careful to not get water on the leaves), and then allow the water to drain completely.
African violets require a light, porous potting medium, such as Sphagnum peat moss and perlite. Such a mix will prevent damage to the plants’ delicate roots and will enhance aeration while keeping the soil moist but not soggy.
Remove dead blooms and damaged leaves regularly with a sharp knife, including the entire stalk. Also, immediately wipe off any water that may be spilled on leaves during watering, and regularly brush away dust and dirt from the hairy leaf surfaces with a soft-bristle brush, like a paint brush.
Repot these plants at least once a year, to refresh the soil, or whenever they become rootbound. Be careful not to break leaf stems or damage leaves. Keep the pots small, increasing the pot size only 1 inch each time. A general rule of thumb is that the pot size should be about one-third the diameter of the leaf span. Shallow pots, like azalea pots, are preferred.
With proper care and ideal environmental conditions, African violets will bloom continually.
New plants can be started with leaf cuttings, with 1 inch to 2 inches of stem attached. Leaves develop roots in about a month, and plantlets form within four to six weeks after that.
Rotate plants one-quarter turn every week or every time you water, to prevent them growing toward the light and growing larger on the side closest to the light source.
Overwatering, watering from the top, an inconsistent watering schedule, too frequent spray misting of leaves, insufficient air circulation, potting medium that is too heavy with poor aeration, and extreme changes in temperature.
PLANT DOES NOT BLOOM
Not enough light, lack of darkness (see “In-Store and Consumer Care: Light”), low humidity, cold air, too frequent repotting, failure to remove side shoots (suckers).
BROWN SPOTS / NECROSIS ON LEAVES
Cold water on leaf surfaces.
CRACKED, BRITTLE LEAVES; LESIONS ON LEAVES
Too much fertilizer.
BLEACHED PATCHES ON LEAVES
Too much direct sunlight in summer, insects.
Not enough humidity, too much direct sunlight, too much or too little water, too much fertilizer.
PALE GREEN OR OTHERWISE DISCOLORED LEAVES
Chill damage; exposure to too-low temperatures.
CURLED LEAF EDGES, LEAVES CURL DOWNWARD
Exposure to too-low temperatures or too-cold water.
LIMP LEAVES; CENTER CROWN ROTTEN
Overwatering, wide fluctuations in temperatures.
PLANT GROWS ASYMMETRICALLY, LARGER ON ONE SIDE
Failure to rotate pot, removal of too many damaged
leaves in one area without removing other leaves to maintain symmetry.
To view all 40 varieties of African Violets, please download the PDF.
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WHAT’S IN A NAME The genus Saintpaulia was named after German Baron Walter von Saint Paul-Illaire, (1860-1910), who collected the first African violets in East Africa and sent them to Europe in 1892. The specific epithet (species name) “ionantha” means purple flowered.
FAMILY MATTERS Saintpaulia is a member of the Gesneriaceae (gesneria) family, and close relatives to African violets include gloxinia (Sinningia), cape primrose (Streptocarpus) and flame violet (Episcia).
HOME SWEET HOME African violets are native to Tanzania, a country on Africa’s east coast, on the Indian Ocean.
Some information provided by:
Botanica, by R.G. Turner Jr. and Ernie Wasson
Chain of Life Network®, www.chainoflifenetwork.org
Complete Houseplant Survival Manual, The
by Barbara Pleasant
Houseplant Encyclopedia, The
by Ingrid Jantra and Ursula Krüger
New House Plant Expert, The, by Dr. D.G. Hessayon
Optimara Group / Holtkamp Greenhouses, Inc.
SAF Flower & Plant Care
by Terril A. Nell, Ph.D. and Michael S. Reid, Ph.D.
Stearn’s Dictionary of Plant Names for Gardeners
by William T. Stern
Photos: Optimara Group; www.optimara.com