african violets

African Violets (Saintpaulia): Facts, How to Grow and Care

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With their all year-round blooms and attractive foliage, African Violet plants have become a favorite among many gardeners, going as far as having its own grower’s society from all around the world.

Learn how to care for this beautiful ornamental below.

What is an African Violet?

The African violet is an ornamental plant with vibrant colored flowers and luscious green leaves. They belong to the section Saintpaulia within a larger genus Streptocarpus (subg. Streptocarpella). Saintpaulia is once thought to be a separate genus from Streptocarpus and is only recently transferred.

saintpaulia ionantha

Consequently, African violets are sometimes commonly called saintpaulia. The name Saintpaulia was given to the plant in honor of its collector Baron Walter von Saint Paul-Illaire, who found the plant in Tanzania in 1892.

Despite the name, African violets are not true violets, nor are they related to them. African violets are from the plant family Gesneriaceae while the true violets (Viola) are from Violaceae.

African violets are one of the most beautiful ornamental plants. They are small and compact which makes them perfect as potted houseplants. The leaves are saucer-shaped and velvety, borne in short stems (3-4 inches). 

They vary in shape and color which makes them one of the striking features of the plants. Nestled in the luscious green foliage are the main attraction, the brightly colored blooms. The stunning flowers, like the leaves, are variable from one cultivar to another.

They come in different colors, shapes, and number of petals (1). The plant has become a popular Mother’s Day gift because of the all year-round blooms, signifying a mother’s love.


Types and Cultivars of African Violet

Despite the collector being European, African violets were first cultivated in Los Angeles in 1925. Since then, the plant has gained popularity throughout the US. More species were discovered, and many cultivars of the plant have been developed. Nowadays, the beauty of African Violet is recognized worldwide.

pink african violet

African violet cultivars can be categorized based on size, growth habit, flower variation, and leaf variation (2).

Based on the growth habit, an African violet can either be rosette (single-crowned) type or trailing (multi-crowned) type. A rosette type would have leaves growing outwards from a central stem and flowers blooming at the center. On the other hand, trailing types would have several branches growing from the base and flowers blooming from each branch (2,3).

Based on size or the diameter of the plant, African violets can either be micro (less than 3 in.), super-mini (3-4 in.), mini (between 4 and 6 in), semi-mini (between 6 and 8-10 in.), standard (between 8-10 and 12-16 in.), or giant (over 12-16 in.) (4).

Based on the flower variations, African violets can be a single type with 5 petals, a double type with 10 petals, or a semi-double type with 6-9 petals. The flowers can also exhibit variations based on their color/s, and shape of the flowers and the petals (2).

purple saintpaulia

Based on the leaf variations, an African violet plant could be a boy (plain leaf), girl (scalloped margins with white dot at the base), longifolia (long and pointed), ruffled, spoon shaped or quilted.  They can also have variegation of white, cream, pink and yellow green (5).

Thinking about adding this spectacular plant to your indoor collection? Check out some of these cultivars.

‘Blue Boy’ 

The first African violet cultivar, this plant has plain circular leaves and single type, blue petaled flowers. Perfect if you are looking for something simple.

‘Red Lantern’ 

This cultivar is on the elegant side with plain circular leaves and pansy type flowers that has mauve colored petals with creamy-white edges.

‘Tommie Lou’ 

This cultivar’s main feature is its foliage of green velvety leaves with creamy white variegation patterns on the edges. The blooms are equally showy with double type white flowers, complementing the variegation of the leaves.  

‘Tomorrow’s Pink Ice’ 

Another elegant cultivar, ‘Tomorrow’s Pink Ice’ features light pink, pansy type flowers with raspberry edges. 


How to Care for African Violets

care for african violets
African violet as an indoor plant – Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash

How much light does African Violets need?

For African violets, blooming is dependent on the amount of light the plant receives. Inadequate light may result in less bloom or no bloom at all. The leaves also tend to become weaker and have long petioles. 

On the other hand, too much light causes distorted, tight growth, bleached leaves, and smaller flowers. The best blooms are achieved with moderate to bright, indirect sunlight. 

Just make sure not to place them in areas with direct sunlight because this can cause the leaves to burn (1,6). Eastern and northern windows are best places for African violets during warmer seasons. In winter, western and southern windows are best (7).

Some gardeners use artificial lighting for their African violets such as 20 to 40-watt fluorescent lights suspended at 12 to 15 inches above the plants.

How Often Should I Water African Violet?

African violets need moderate watering to prevent root rot. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. To ensure this, water your plants only when the soil surface is dry to the touch. Avoid overhead watering as this may cause the leaf spotting (6).

What is the Optimum Temperature and Humidity for Africa Violets?

African violets grow best in moderate temperatures between 70 – 80oF in daytime and 60 – 70oF in nighttime. African violets are not cold hardy, and below 60oF, plants will become deformed (1,7).

These plants also require high humidity for attractive growth. Maintain high humidity by placing the pots in a water tray filled with pebbles. Misting should be avoided since the velvety leaves tend to retain water droplets, causing leaf spotting and fungal growth (6).

grow african violets

What is the Best Soil/Potting Media for African Violets?

African violets require a light, slightly acidic (pH=6.8), porous, potting mix. It should provide air circulation for the roots, well drainage, and good moisture retention.

There are commercially available potting mixes made especially for African violets, but some gardeners prefer to mix their own. If you want to do so, you can use a 1:1:1 mix of sphagnum peat moss, per-lite and vermiculite. Make sure to use a soil test kit for optimal results.

Sometimes, the commercial African violet potting mixes can be too packed and hold too much moisture. If that is the case, you can remedy it by mixing with general purpose organic potting medium in a 1:1 ratio.

Do African Violets Need Fertilizer?

The fertilizer needs of African violets depend on the cultivar. For standard African violets, a balanced fertilizer in powder or liquid form is enough. Feed once every three months.

Repotting

African violets prefer to be root bound so repotting should be done only when they outgrew their pot. When repotting, select a slightly bigger pot and remove most of the soil leaving only the portion attached to the roots. You can divide the plant to propagate or simply repot in African violet mix.

Grooming/Pruning

African violets, especially rosette types, can be pruned to maintain a single-crown look. Pruning will also encourage new growth. When pruning African violets, remove dry or dying leaves and flowers by snapping them off. To prevent an unsightly bushy look, suckers or side shoots could also be picked off.

Propagation

Propagating African violets is commonly done by leaf-petiole cuttings. You can also increase your African violets by dividing during potting, directly from seeds, or through suckers (for chimera types) (8).

If you love African flowers, check this list of African flowering plants!

References

Reference list

1 “Saintpaulia ionantha”. Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder.

2.  Stork J., Stork K. “You Can Grow African Violets: The Official Guide Authorized by the African Violet Society of America, Inc.”. iUniverse. 2007.

3. “Introduction to African Violets”. Baby Violets. 2020.

4. ‘African Violet Plant Size’. Grow African Violets. 2013. (online)

5. “African Violets: Variety is Beautiful!”. The Generiad Reference Web. The Gesneriad Society 2020.

6. Deardoff D., Wadsworth K. “What’s Wrong With My Houseplant?: Save you Indoor Plants With 100% Organic Solutions”. Timber Press. 2016.

7. Thomas P.A. “Growing African Violets”. The University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Science. Circular 660. 2012.

8. (Pruning) Burton J. “Indoor Gardening & Urban Gardening: Discover how to create Urban Gardens and master the art of Indoor and Balcony Gardening”. Amazon. 2010. P 60

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