African violets are native to tropical East Africa. It is generally regarded as an indoor plant. It does best in mild to warm temperatures and filtered light. They are not really violets but they do come from Africa. The native plants found in Africa all have small, single flowers in a range of blues to white. Modern hybrid plants are much more varied.
The botanical name is Saintpaulia ionantha. This name comes from Baron Walter von Saint Paul, a consular official, who was the first to discover the plant. He sent seeds back to Germany in 1892. By 1920, hybridisation was well underway in the United States. They have become very popular house-plants, renowned for their beautiful flowers and the length of their flowering period.
There are now many different hybrids available with colours ranging from white to pink, purple, red and blue. There is even a yellow-flowering plant available although this is still quite rare. The flowers may be single, semi-double, double, bi-coloured, spotted, streaked and/or fringed. The stalks are fleshy and pale green. The leaves are oval or round and most hybrids are covered with velvety hairs. The underside of the leaves are paler and may be variegated depending on the type.
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plant care and cultivation, pests and
diseases. There is a list of popular
cultivars to help you choose suitable
varieties to grow.
The rosette type comes in three sizes. This type has one growing point with leaves and flowers radiating out like spokes. The standard is the largest and may exceed 500mm in diameter under exceptional circumstances. A more common diameter would be around 300mm. Semi-miniatures often flower very heavily indeed and the flowers have diameters of 200mm or less. The smallest are the miniatures and have dainty flowers measuring 150mm or less in diameter.
The trailing type has many crowns and appears to be a complete ball of foliage. Trailers also come in three sizes – standard, semi-miniature and miniature.
As an indoor plant, the African violet is almost ideal. No apartment is too small for an African violet or two. They do not need a lot of care and are indeed happier if they sometimes miss a watering. They need plenty of light without being exposed to direct sunlight. They are happy in small pots but they do need to have a suitable soil. There are now lightweight commercial soil mixes available specifically for African violets and cyclamens.
Managing the water needs of the African violet is the trickiest part of successfully growing these plants. If the leaves are splashed with water, they will be marked spoiling their appearance. One way to overcome this is to stand the pot in a saucer of water and leave it until the moisture has soaked right up to the surface of the pot. Then let the plant dry out completely before watering again.
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violets are explained in an entertaining,
straightforward and step-by-step
Regular feeding with a fertiliser designed for indoor plants will help keep the flowers coming. Remove dead flowers and remember to let the plants dry out thoroughly from time to time. It is a good idea to dust the leaves regularly with a soft brush. The pores of the leaves can become clogged with dust. If your plant is reluctant to flower, enclosing it in a paper bag for several days will often encourage it to bloom.
Common pests which may inflict themselves on African violets include mites, mealy bugs and, sometimes, aphids. If your plant develops fungal leaf spots, spray with a fungicide.
Although African violets have a bit of a reputation as being hard to cultivate, this is undeserved. They are such beautiful plants they deserve to be given a chance to shine in every household.