African Violets

African Violets – A Brief History

African Violets (Saintpaulias) are tropical plants that were found in the wilds of Africa in 1892 and their common name is from their resemblance to true violets (Violaceae). Before the end of the 19th century, African Violets were being propagated in hothouses in Europe.

African Violet - Varied Colors

Figure 1: Colors of African Violets

In 1927 a California nursery ordered seeds for the African Violet from England and Germany – then these flowering plants became known globally and are now among the most popular house plants. Of the 1,000 plants grown, ten were chosen as the first hybrids and introduced to the world in 1936. Despite the fact that most commercial plants are grown from cuttings and tissue culture, many of the species of African Violet are now endangered, as their habitats are cleared for agriculture.

African Violet Description

African Violets are a flowering perennial, highly sensitive to temperature change — particularly if their leaves cool rapidly. The leaves are covered in a stiff “velvet” that adds to the beauty of these flowering plants. The sheen on the leaves in Figures 1, 2, and 3 are the light reflecting off of the fine filaments that make up the velvet.

Like Cyclamen, these plants are valued more for the beautiful flowers than the foliage. In the wild they produce violet, pale blue, white and purple flowers; as a general rule size varies from the micro at less than 3 (three) inches to the giant that can grow to approximately 16 inches.

 African Violet Propagation

The simplest way to begin new plants is to pick a leaf off at the base of the African Violet and stick it into damp soil. Keep the humidity right and you’ll have a new plant coming.

One other method that I have used is to fill a glass with water and put a plastic bag over the top secured with a rubber band. Make a small slit in the bag and push the stem through into the water; soon you will see roots appearing, ready to plant. Make sure that when you plant it the soil is not touching the leaf – only the stem.

African Violet Care

As indoor plants, grown under proper conditions including the use a sterile pot and soil, good water flow/drainage, and indirect, filtered afternoon sunlight, African Violets will bloom endlessly. There are many beautiful flower pots and indoor plant stands that suit African Violets perfectly.

African Violet - Decorative Basket

Figure 3: African Violet Plants in a Decorative Basket

I recommend buying small stones from the nursery to line the bottom of the pot for improved drainage and using potting soil made specifically for African Violets. Optimal plant health care requires you to periodically repot the African Violet to avoid overcrowding the roots.

The soil for the plant should be kept slightly damp. The easiest way to water is from the base; do not get the leaves wet as it makes ugly brown spots on them. Never saturate the soil. Daytime temperature should be between 70 – 75 degrees Fahrenheit; don’t let it drop below 60 degrees overnight.

To keep the plants growing evenly and to obtain a good shape to your African Violet, turn the pot one-quarter turn every second day – always the same direction. Regular fluorescent lights for about 16 hours per day with 8 hours of darkness will usually give sensational bloom but the plants will need extra food and water. Group your plants to help keep the humidity at the required level. Whatever fertilizer you choose, use it in the water according to directions and give them this every time you water.  If you also have Succulent plants, the African Violet fertilizer can be used on them as well.

African Violets - Basket Bouquet

Figure 4: Mixed Basket of African Violets and Ivy

Alternative Growth Methods

African Violets give amazing growth hydroponically. Old leaves may yellow as they adapt to the new system; remove them and soon the plant will offer brighter blossoms and stronger leaves. The link, Hydroponics Systems, offers complete hydroponics systems, educational books, and organic fertilizers to aid you in setting up your own hydroponics system.

You can also grow African Violets in a terrarium or similar atmosphere where they get plenty of humidity.

Modern Uses of African Violets

African Violets - Mixed basket

Figure 5: Mixed Basket of African Violets, Roses, Azaleas, Ivy and Pink Hypoestes

Florist shops have recently had an increasing demand for bouquets that include African Violets. A decorative bouquet of this type is often made up of blooms from flowering plants such as Roses, Azaleas, Hibiscus, Hydrangea, Gardenia, OrchidsPeonies, and spring flowers – add beautiful potted violets in varying shades and you have a rainbow of colors to delight the eye! The baskets featured in Figures 3, 4, and 5 are examples of how beautiful such bouquets from florists can be.

Some species of spring flowers are poisonous to cats, among them the Peony, Tulips and certain Lilies; however, the African Violet, Easter Orchids, Miniature Roses and other popular types of flowering plants and most varieties Palm Plants are non-toxic to them. However, if a child or pet ingests or gets cut on any plant, call a poison control center immediately. It’s better to be overly cautious than to lose a loved-one, and many plants are very toxic. For more information on the subject, see Poisonous Plants.


Sources and Citations  – research source  – research source  – research source  – research source – research source



Plant Health Care

As I mentioned in a previous post, I quickly learned how to identify plant health care issues with indoor plants, and I thought I’d share some of my insights here. I’m not an expert on plant diseases, or how to identify different types of plant pests, but I can quickly identify signs and symptoms of over-watering, too much light, too little light, etc. The best indoor plants can be killed by these common mistakes. Some of these symptoms may also be symptoms of diseases, so if the steps that I recommend for plant care don’t help, you may want to consult with a nursery for more help.

Plant Health Care – Too Much Water

Plant Health Care - Aqua Globes

Figure 2: Aqua Globes help balance watering

When a plant has too much water, the tips or edges of the leaves may turn brown. Often the soil will smell kind of like sour milk and will get a brown crust across the top. At times the little white pieces in the soil turn kind of a muddy brown. If the base of the plant is a sickly brown right above the soil, that is an indication that the plant is rotting from too much water and you may not be able to save it. African Violets and Succulent plants are 2 varieties of plants that you should especially keep an eye out for these signs. It is very common for them to be over watered and get root rot.

If you notice these conditions stop watering your plant until the soil feels dry to touch when you stick a finger down into the soil 1 inch (2.5 cm). If the plant pot is sitting over (or in) water, remove the water while you let the plant dry. After the plant has dried out sufficiently, water it and then let it dry out again between future waterings. If the plant pot does not have drainage holes, repot the plant into a pot with good drainage and let the plant sit in a dark corner or dark room for about 3 days to recover from repotting.

Plant Health Care – Too Little Water

When a plant has too little water, the leaves will droop, flowers may drop off, and the soil will be powdery dry. Give the plant a thorough watering to the point where the water runs out of the holes in the bottom. Let the water drain out completely and then give the plant some “rest” time in a dark corner for a day or two. After that rest period return it to an area with the correct light for the type of plant and water it again when the soil feels dry down to 1 inch (2.5 cm) below the surface of the soil.

Keep in mind that plants in the same family can have different watering requirements. For example, Miniature Roses tend to need more water than regular sized Roses. Some indoor plant stands are self watering which can help alleviate the stress of trying to figure out how much water to give your plant.

If you have trouble finding a balance with watering your plants, you might want to try watering bulbs, like in Figure 2.

Plant Health Care – Too Little Light

 When a plant has too little light, the leaves will be washed out. For example, Spider Plants will turn from green and white to a yellowish blend of the colors, and Coleus will lose the vivid beautiful reds and purples and become more green, white, and yellow. If a plant is out of sufficient light for a long enough period, the plant will become spindly looking and grow in the direction of whatever light source it can find.

Plant Health Issues - Healthy Coleus

Figure 1: Healthy Coleus

To correct the problem, identify the type of plant that you have and give it the correct light source. For example, African Violets love bright, indirect light. For people who live in the Northern Hemisphere a North-facing window tends to be ideal for an African Violet. On the other hand, many succulents require bright, direct sunlight in order to thrive. Once you have the plant in the right light conditions, turn it frequently so that it grows evenly.

Plant Health Care – Too Much Light

If a plant has too much light the symptoms may resemble a plant that has too little water. There may be scorch marks on the leaves from the light burning them, and the soil may be very dry.  If your plant has symptoms like these, identify the plant and google it to find out what type of light it needs. Many plants prefer bright indirect light such as from a North-facing window (Northern Hemisphere).

It is common for many tropical plants to receive too much light because their owners know that they are tropical. However, many tropical plants (including some Palm Plants) grow in the shade and humidity of rain forests, and actually need less light and more water than one may expect.

Plant Health Care – Plant Pests

When you bring a new plant home keep it away from your other plants for at least a week so that you can make sure you are not introducing new diseases or pests to your other plants. Taking this precaution can save you a lot of headaches down the road.

If your plant is suffering from an infestation of plant pests, you may see some signs such as holes in the leaves, little black or white mounds or balls attached to the under-side of the leaves or to the stem, or the leaves may turn a sickly yellow or brown and drop off. I am not a proponent of pesticides because they tend to make people and animals sick. For that reason I highly recommend food grade Diatomaceous Earth. You can actually eat food grade Diatomaceous Earth, and your pets can safely eat it too. If you dust it on the leaves and soil of the plant it will kill the pests and not harm your plant. You can even mix it in water and mist it onto the leaves. Warning: ONLY use food grade Diatomaceous Earth because regular Diatomaceous Earth is harmful to your lungs and your body in general. Here is a link for the place where I buy my food grade Diatomaceous Earth (they only sell food grade).

Plant Health Care – Root Bound

Obviously the easiest way to know if a plant is root bound is to pick the pot up and look at the drainage holes. If you see bits of plant root poking out the holes, it generally means that your plant is due for a repotting. Another sign to watch for is spindly growth where there’s a single stalk with few leaves, and the leaves tend to drop off near the bottom of the stalk. A plant like this looks generally unhealthy and that’s a good sign to look for roots at the bottom. Also, if you have a foliage plants such as Spider Plants, and  they start growing flowers, then that can be an indication that they are root bound as well. Some flowering plants bloom best when they are a little root bound, so double check on the requirements for the specific plant before repotting if you are in doubt. After repotting a plant, be sure to give it a few days in a darkened room to recuperate from the shock of being uprooted.

The oddball plants in regards to being root bound are Orchids. They need to have their roots out in the open air in order to survive. They send out tendrils of fleshy plant that is sometimes hard to differentiate from a flower spike, but they are roots and should be allowed to stick outside of their flower pots. Orchid care tends to be different from most other plants, and I recommend that you research specifics about them if you are having problems with your orchids.

Poisonous Plants

It’s a good idea to wear gloves when repotting or pruning poisonous plants. While many varieties of poisonous plants (such as Cyclamen) are only dangerous if ingested, some are poisonous if you get cut by their sharp fronds.

 Sources and Citations – research source