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

http://www.hydro-orchids.com/tp-AFV.html  – research source

http://www.articlesbase.com/gardening-articles/advice-to-gardeners-wanting-to-grow-african-violets-1835058.html?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=ab_paid_12&gclid=CJnd3K_upboCFcU5Qgode2AArw  – research source

http://answers.ask.com/Home/Gardening/how_to_grow_african_violets?ad=semD&an=google_s&am=broad&o=2469  – research source

http://www.agardenforthehouse.com/2012/11/my-african-violet-growing-guide/  – research source

http://www.skh.com/gardeningatoz/cactus-succulent-care/ – research source

 

 

Succulent Plants

Succulent Plants - Desert Cactus Dish Garden

Figure 1: Desert Cactus Dish Garden

Succulent plants are sometimes referred to as ‘Succulents’ or ‘fat plants’ since parts of them are thick and they usually retain more water in dry climates/soils, according to Wikipedia. Their low demand for water allows them to survive periods of neglect, making them some of the best indoor plants for beginners. They are perennial tropical plants often grown as ornamental plants in flower pots and gardens because many of them have a very unusual appearance. Joshua Trees (pictured in Figure 2, below) are often confused with succulent plants, but they are actually a variety of Yucca.

Succulent Plants - Joshua Tree Yucca

Figure 2: Joshua Tree

Many Succulent plants are flowering plants that offer easy care and look beautiful in your home alone or with a companion plant such as CyclamenHibiscus, Hydrangea, Azaleas or Geraniums–which have similar requirements for lighting. Succulent plants come in a myriad of colors and leaf shapes and a current trend that is gaining popularity is to include different varieties of succulent plants with Peonies and other flowers in bridal bouquets. Unlike Spider Plants and Palm Plants, Succulents generally like the low humidity and warm conditions found in many houses; they seem to be able to adapt to direct or lower light. Many of the smaller plants look great on indoor plant stands, and stands with wheels are available for larger plants. Succulent Plants prefer a good draining soil that’s not watered often, and it’s best to let the soil become completely dry between waterings.

Succulent Plants – Interesting facts

  • The tallest free-standing Cactus is about 63 feet tall (19.2 m); the smallest is approximately 0.4 inches (1 cm) at maturity
  • Plant health care for Succulents is less demanding than Orchid care
  • A fully mature Saguaro Cactus (Figure 3) can absorb as much as 200 US gallons of water during heavy rainfall.

    Succulent Plants - Saguaro Cactus

    Figure 3: Saguaro Cactus

  • Both Succulent Plants and Orchids produce oxygen at night, unlike most other types of plants which only produce oxygen while they are receiving light. For that reason they are a great option for bedrooms.
  • Remember that all Cacti are succulents but all succulents are not Cacti
  • Popular because they use less water and have less impact in droughts
  • They are fire-resistant and fire retardant
  • Many of them are not poisonous plants, but use barbs or needles for their protection, similar to Roses

Some of the Simplest Succulent Plants to Care For

Aloe Vera: Although the sap of this plant has been used for hundreds of years to heal wounds or sunburn, it has sharp teeth on the edge of the leaves that can cut – needs to be placed where it will not be bumped into for that reason.

Succulent Plants - Aloe Vera

Figure 4: Aloe Vera

Let the soil dry out between heavy waterings but do not leave it standing in water. Keep Aloe Vera in direct sunlight and fertilize 3 (three) times in the summer with a 10-10-10 fertilizer. If you have African Violet fertilizer you can use that on your succulent plants as well. Do not repot unless you particularly want to or the roots are pushing their way out of the pot.

 

Pin Cushion Cactus: There are approximately 200 species of this group for home-growing, most of them coming from Mexico.

Succulent Plants - Cactus Garden with Pincushion Cactus

Figure 5: Cactus Garden with Pincushion Cactus

The spines (modified leaves) appear fine and harmless but have hooked ends like a porcupine quill, which makes it difficult to pull out of the skin.  These cacti may take different shapes and often flower in the house. They require a lot of light. Let the soil get fairly dry between waterings; do not water in the winter time as the plant is in a dormant period, necessary for flowering. A balanced fertilizer, 10-10-10 is needed three times during the summer months.

Burros Tail: This succulent plant looks cute in a hanging plant pot or basket with its tails out over the side; gray with green or blue ‘leaves’ can grow up to 3 feet long.

Succulent Plants - Burros Tail

Figure 6: Burros Tail

Allow the soil to dry a little between waterings and fertilize in summer with a 10-10-10 fertilizer; be aware that it rarely flowers but it is possible that pink or red flowers could appear during the summer. Leaves fall off of a Burros Tail easily; try to keep it where it will not be bumped by anything. If you move it outside for the summer, put it in the shade so that it does not get sunburned, or, on the patio where it could get morning light then shade from the afternoon sun.

Ponytail Palm: The Ponytail Palm is not a palm tree and does not appear to be a succulent plant although related to the agave. Use a quick draining soil for this plant – cactus potting soil is a good one.

Succulent Plants - Ponytail Palm

Figure 7: Ponytail Palm

It is a long-lived indoor houseplant with average room temperature good for most of the year in a location with bright light. Winters it prefers temperatures around 50-55°F. Spring through fall you should allow the surface soil to dry before watering; during the winter only water once-in-a-while. Fertilize in the spring with a 10-10-10 balanced fertilizer, and give it a very bright room for the summer months. Repotting every second year is adequate for this succulent. This plant can grow up to twenty (20) feet high indoors!

                                                     

Snake Plant (also called Mother-in-Law’s Tongue):

Succulent Plants - Snake Plant

Figure 8: Snake Plant

These succulent plants have stiff, upright leaves that can grow to 3-4 feet tall. The Snake Plant has a green border on the leaves while the Mother-in-Law’s Tongue has a yellow border.

They make a tough houseplant and can withstand almost any conditions with the exception of over-watering or not watering. Soil should be a loose and well-drained potting material; preferably with sand in it. Give it a mild 10-10-10 cactus fertilizer in the growing season. Prune out damaged leaves.

Hens and Chicks: Two succulent plants use this name – both produce chicks – little plants offset from the mother. The flowering patterns are different: one grows bell-shaped blooms while the other grows pink star-shape flowers on plants that die after flowering.

Succulent Plants - Hens & Chicks

Figure 9: Hens and Chicks

Grown in the house, the two perform identically; both should be allowed to dry a little between waterings – overwatering will rot both plants. Water very little during dormant period. Feed them a 10-10-10 fertilizer in the summer. New growth can be started by removing the offsets and potting them. The plants will be scarred if water touches them or the leaves get bumped.

Panda Plant: This succulent plant is a native of Madagascar and is grown for its foliage – thick, green leaves covered with silver hairs; the edges tipped with brown or rust-colored hairs.

Succulent Plants - Panda Plant

Figure 10: Panda Plant

Let the top couple of inches of soil dry out between waterings and in winter, its dormant period, barely water it at all – just don’t let it dry out completely. The panda plant likes medium to bright filtered light. A 10-10-10 fertilizer should be used in the summer. The plant doesn’t require much in the way of pruning.

Jade Plant: this succulent plant, originally from South Africa, is so easy to grow. It has thick stems with shiny green leaves that have a touch of red. Allow the soil to become bone dry between waterings, but don’t leave it that way.

Succulent Plants - Jade Plant

Figure 11: Jade Plant

Jade plants are most commonly killed by too much water. Fertilize three times in summer with a 10-10-10 fertilizer. The terra cotta pot offers good air movement through the soil; repotting is rarely necessary as the plant has a small root system. Keep the plant pruned for balance – both appearance and weight – if one side grows too large it could upset the whole plant.

 Sources and Citations

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Succulents – research source

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Succulent_plant – research source

http://www.bhg.com/gardening/houseplants/projects/top-10-succulents-for-home/ – research source

http://www.skh.com/gardeningatoz/cactus-succulent-care/ – research source