African violets are a HUGE industry in North America. Many thousands of varieties are available, selected for novel flower colour but also for improved flowering time, disease resistance and other economically important traits.

One of the interesting things about African violet production is that they are propagated entirely through tissue culture. The old-fashioned method involved taking horizontally-sliced leaf explants ("cuttings") and planting them in soil until new plantlets grew along the cut edge. More recently, sterile in vitro methods have been developed, improving control over the culture process and excluding pests and diseases in the early phases of growing. These propagation methods have the advantage that they produce many genetically identical plants, allowing mass cultivation and sale of varieties that do not "breed true".

African Violets are incredibly beautiful plants that have gorgeous and colorful blossoms. The violet has amazing history and are extremely popular plants even today.

Background and Discovery

The African violet was first discovered by Europeans in 1892 in East Africa by Baron Walter von St. Paul who was the german governor of a northeastern province in Tanganyika (now part of Tanzania). He stumbled across these plants growing in the Usambara Mountains around the shaded rocky ledges. He instantly sent the seeds of this plant he called "Usambara violet" back to his father in Germany. While in Germany, this plant soon acquired its botanical name that remains with it to this day: Saintpaulia. There were many species that were found soon after the original discovery, they all share the same genus name Saintpaulia followed by an adjective that describes that individual species. The plant that Walter von Saint Paul discovered is called Saintpaulia ionantha. Some adjectives that have been used have been after people that found them, or places where they were discovered. These plants soon became a popular house plant in Germany and other European countries.

Even though these plants were discovered in the nineteenth century, they did not come to North America until 1926 (the original violets to come to North America came from Europe). A California firm by the name of Armacost and Royston imported seeds in 1926 from British and German greenhouses that were known for these violets as their specialty. Amazingly, the first varieties from this first batch of seeds that Armacost and Royston grew are quite often grown today. About a year later, the first U.S. commercial hybrid named Blue Boy came on the market in 1927.

African Violet Details

The African violet is a plant contrary to the misconception of it being a flower. There have been over 20 different recorded wild species and variants of the violet to date. Although current versions that are altered through hybridization which created new plants with different sizes, growth habits, blossom colours and numerous other changes, the wild violets all have blossoms that are in the blue-violet range. The first violets that were produced in the California firm had a bloom of a basic blue colour and a bloom type of the typical standard single pansy shaped blossom (the shape that is still associated with African violets).

The African violet is a fairly low impact and compact plant that has gorgeous blooms and dark green, thick, hearty and hairy (don't get grossed it, they are more fuzzy than they are hairy) leaves. The flowers grow just above the foliage and now can be found in colors such as pink, fuchsia and white. Hybridization has also gives violets multiple rows of petals and bi-colored leaves. If the plants are kept in good condition, they usually bloom continuously.

Quick Care Overview

Let's start with potting. Most African violets today are potted in what is called soilless mix (3 parts sphagnum peat moss, 2 parts vermiculite, and 1 part perlite with some added lime). However, as long as there is good drainage (using a small amount of sand in mixture allows for good drainage) and fairly aerated soil, all should go well. A few things to note, make sure the crown (where the plant leaves start) is above the soil so it can be firmly pressed and also taking care of good drainage - if there is not good drainage, that could cause drowning and root and crown decay. Repot them about once a year and keep up on removing dead blossoms and very limp leaves.

African violets do well in warm temperatures and dry air. Usually 60 degrees Fahrenheit at night and 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit during the day are ideal, the colder it is, the slower they grow and the longer they take to recover even when placed in good conditions. They do need a decent amount of light, but direct sunlight is not necessary (they will adapt and get used to it however, as my own African violets have done). If it gets too hot however, the plants will start to rot.

Watering is always a huge issue. African violets do like moist soil, but try to prevent the leaves and blooms from getting wet (this can cause discoloration in spots). A good method is pouring water every few days in watertight saucers kept under the pots which will allow the water to wick up into the plant.

African violets are a beautiful addition to any room and a stunning and eye-pleasing plants. Requiring minimal and proper care, they are enjoyable to have and rewarding with their success. They are very easy to find - even most floral sections in grocery stores have them. ENJOY!


  • Personal Knowledge

Growing by vegetative propagation.

When an african violet grows it continually produces new leaves. If you have one such plant and perhaps wish another two or three then you can take some of these leaves and propagate new plantlets.

Each plantlet will be a genetically identical organism to the "parent" plant.

Leaves should be taken from an already mature plant (Several leaves may be taken from the one plant but to ensure the original plant stays aesthetically pleasing, take the leaves from its base) A medium sized leaf blade with leaf stem fully intact is best. Check that the leaf, indeed the plant from which you are taking the leaf, is not diseased as this disease will be passed onto the new plant. Once certain you have a healthy stemmed leaf, you can set up the growing medium. Some methods use water which has a little plant food in it to propagate african violets, but a small pot of soil, preferably one which is free from nitrates, herbicides, pesticides and fungicides is a good growth medium. African violets can be hard to grow in a soil which is too full of nutrients and although a little plant food is good for them, too much may kill them. The leaf stem should be inserted almost fully into the soil, with just the leaf blade coming out of the soil. Water the soil well, but try to avoid wetting the leaves.

They should be kept out of direct sunlight but also should be kept at temperatures exceeding 65 degrees. A moist atmosphere will also aid their growth and they should be watered regularly.

It is prudent at this point to note that african violets take a reasonably long amount of time to show any signs of growth, from about 12 - 14 weeks before you will start getting actual leaf growth from the top of the stem where it was placed into the soil.

When the new leaves have reached the size of the original leaf, it should be cut off at soil level and the plantlet transferred to a larger pot.

Although this method is not as fast as the "store bought" method, you will find that you have a sense of achievement and also a number of healthy plants.

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