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



Orchid Care – The Basics

An introduction to Orchids, including the items to consider when selecting an Orchid, is necessary before going into the basics of an Orchid’s care. While Orchids are beautiful and popular flowering plants, I would not recommend them as a plant for someone just learning to care for plants. See The Best Indoor Plants for Beginners and start with something more basic such as Spider Plants or Cyclamen before you move on to these slightly more challenging plants.

Introduction to Orchids

Currently there are approximately 25,000 – 30,000 species of Orchids with new ones being discovered on every continent but Antarctica. Orchids are not considered to be poisonous plants, but because there are so many species it’s best to be safe and call poison control if a person or animal ingests one.

Orchid Care - Hawaiian Dendrobium Orchid

Figure 1: Hawaiian Dendrobium Orchid

In addition, Orchid breeders have produced approximately 30,000 hybrids. Orchids are one of the most popular types of houseplants; specifically the Phalaenopsis (Fail-uh-NOP-sis), Cymbidium (sim-bid-ee-uhm), and Dendrobium (den-droh-bee-uhm) types of orchids. [Here is a helpful pronunciation page for common orchid names]

Figure 2: Green Vanilla Bean Orchid

The Vanilla Orchid (Figure 2) is the most highly produced, giving us the vanilla bean commonly used to flavor our drinks and desserts.

Often erroneously considered tropical plants, Orchids grow naturally in most climates. Contrary to most of our thinking, Hawaii only has three native orchids whereas Maine has 48! African Violets and Palm Plants are actually more tropical than most Orchids.

Similar to Succulent plants, and unlike most other plants, Orchids produce oxygen at night. For that reason they are a good option for a window sill or on indoor plant stands in bedrooms.

Orchids do not grow in soil. [Most wild orchids attach themselves by roots to the sides of trees and branches absorbing water and nutrients from the air and rain; the plants hoard water in thick leaves, stems and roots.] Some flower pots are made specifically for orchids that accommodate their special growth needs.

White Orchids

Thousands of varieties of Orchids produce pure white blossoms or white with another color.

Orchid Care - White Phalaenopsis Orchid

Figure 3: White Phalaenopsis Orchid

Some of the White Orchid class most commonly available include:

Orchid Care - White cymbidium

Figure 4: White Cymbidium

Like Roses, white orchids are very popular for their delicate beauty. Depending on your perspective, an Orchid flower can symbolize innocence & sweetness or exotic luxury.


Choosing an Orchid

Do your own  research making notes on an Orchid’s care before you buy, keeping in mind mature size, temperatures required, amount of sunlight, dormancy periods (if any), when the Orchid blooms, plant health care, and watering, to help find the correct plant for your environment. Bear specific things in mind such as:

  1. The majority of best-known Orchids are hybrids created by breeders. These hybrids were created to accentuate the beauty of the blossoms and make them more adaptable to homes
  2. Will the Orchid have enough space in my designated spot at maturity
  3. Can I provide the correct temperatures
  4. Can I make a greenhouse atmosphere if necessary
  5. Buy a mature, flowering plant; a seedling might take as long as five years to bloom.
  6. Choose a plant with buds that have not yet opened because that will give you more time to enjoy the flowers before they drop

Basic Orchid Care

Orchids need to have their natural conditions replicated closely. They generally grow on other objects such as bark or stone. The phalaenopsis hybrids or dendrobium hybrids are usually the choice of orchids grown indoors. They can thrive under correct conditions of strong, indirect late-afternoon lighting (dendrobiums will take more sun than the Phalaenopsis); high humidity; strong air flow around the roots; regular periods of drying out then being drenched; and temperatures in the range of 50-85 degrees. Store-bought orchids usually cause root rot as they are potted in wet moss inside of cheap plastic pots with no air flow and no chance of drying out. Do not repot a blooming Orchid; later, cut off the dead blossom and spike with sterile clippers. Take it out of the plastic pot; gently remove  the moss—the roots should be firm and white with a speck of green apparent; trim off any black or obviously rotted roots. Set it into a sterile plant pot and fill it with orchid potting mixture. The new roots will soon grow and anchor the orchid to the pot.

  • Water your orchid about once a week and let it dry out somewhat before re-watering.
  • Concerning temperature – Lower the thermostat at night by about ten degrees – this causes the orchid to set flower buds. Although Orchids are classified in 3 (three) groups:  warm-, intermediate-, and cool-growing, many of them can tolerate exposure to slightly warmer/cooler temperatures without suffering.
  • Most orchids require at least six (6) hours of light each day. If you do not have the proper natural lighting, consider artificial lighting.
  • Humidity of 50% or more is required – consider using a humidifier or misting daily at least six inches above the top of the Orchid.
  • Fertilization needs are small but to keep your plants healthy and blooming, apply a weak solution of 20-10-20 fertilizer once a week. Fertilize to encourage the plant to bloom again after the blossoms have dropped. offers many informative books on how to care for Orchids.

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