• Owner: Holly

African Violet- Plant Bio: Podcast Ep#30

When I was first interested in houseplants, people always talked about how hard African Violets were. That turned me off to these plants. After a couple years of working in the garden center, I wanted to try one! They were only one of the few houseplants that consistently bloomed, so I definitely wanted that in my house! To my surprise, it wasn't that hard at all! Now I have six African Violets and I plan to collect even more!


Botanical Name

A few years ago, African Violets were reclassified to Streptocarpus. They were originally called Saintpaulia and people typically still refer to them that way. Saintpaulia ionantha is the botanical name of the majority of African Violets you will see in plant shops (new reclassified name is Streptocarpus sect. Saintpaulia ionanthus or Streptocarpus ionanthus). There are several others such as Saintpaulia goetzeana, Saintpaulia pusilla, Saintpaulia shumensis, Saintpaulia teitensis, just to name a few.


The original name Saintpaulia came from Baron Walter von Saint Paul-Illaire who collected the first African Violet. The more you know!!!


Common Names

African Violet, or some people refer to it as it's previous botanical name, Saintpaulia.


Variety Names

Most of the time your African Violet won't be labeled with the specific variety name but there are 1000's out there! They vary in size, flower color, flower texture, leaf pattern, and leaf texture!


Sun Requirements:

African Violets do best in bright, indirect light but they can tolerate medium light as well. In medium light, leaves may not grow as large, flowers may not bloom as long and there may not be a ton of flowers.

I currently have all six of my African Violets in a north window which is probably considered a medium light situation. They are doing just fine in there! I actually bought five of them this past year so I know those will have to acclimate a bit to the new light conditions. There is one I've had for about three years now and last summer it bloomed from May through October in the north window! But I have noticed the leaves are very small and they almost look stunted which could be from the lack of bright, indirect light. But I am living proof, they still do okay in medium light if this is the only space you have for them!


Just make sure to avoid direct sunlight and very low light situations. If they are placed in direct light, the leaves will burn.


My older African Violet that looks stunted- maybe underwatered

Water Requirement

Allow your African Violet to almost dry in-between waterings. Some sources have suggesting keeping the soil consistently moist but because of their succulent-like leaves, African Violet are prone to rot. I would avoid overwatering at all costs and allow the top layers of soil to dry before watering again.


In my own experience, I have ALWAYS allowed my African Violets to dry out in-between watering. I could be giving it a bit more water than I have in the past. Allowing the soil to completely dry could also be causing my plant's leaves to look stunted. All my African Violet's leaves droop a bit when the plant needs water but it is hard to see sometimes since the plant's leaves already have a low profile.

In regards to humidity, African Violets really don't need it! Their leaves are fuzzy, so increased moisture or humidity, could lead to mold or fungus. Avoid misting African Violets, putting them directly near a humidifier, or putting them in a terrarium or greenhouse. All of those may do more harm than good.


I would also avoid watering the crown of the African Violet or getting the leaves wet. As I said, the leaves are fuzzy so that extra moisture could cause mold or fungus. Water below the leaves, or you can bottom water by filling up your saucer, and allowing the plant to soak up the moisture from below. If there is excess water still in the saucer after about a half hour, make sure to remove it.


Fertilizer

Every source I've read says something slightly different, which proves that there are many ways to do this right! As I always say, I currently use Espoma Indoor! Liquid Plant Food and I fertilizer every 2 weeks when I water my plants, starting around the end of February through October. I honestly probably only fertilize once or twice in winter because the plant isn't as active!

Here are what a couple other sources have said...

  • The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual by Barbara Pleasant says, "Feed every 2 weeks with a high-phosphorous plant food or use a balanced houseplant food mixed at half the rate recommended on the package."

  • Gardening with Lights by Leslie says "A balanced formula is best. Use at each watering, following the manufacturer's instructions. Avoid bloom-boosting fertilizers with excessive phosphorus, as they can cause foliage to appear scorched."

  • So as you can see from those two sources, sometimes there can be contradicting practices! They both recommended balanced houseplant fertilizers but had different perspectives on phosphorus or bloom boosting fertilizers. You never know who is right until you try it yourself! I haven't tried a bloom booster fertilizer on my African Violets. I believe if you use a slightly lower dose and keep it out of direct sunlight, this would avoid the scorch marks. Using a balanced houseplant fertilizer (like I do) still helps my African Violets bloom successfully!

  • There are also "African Violet Fertilizers" that you could try but you DO NOT need! If you have multiple houseplants it is much easier to use a balance houseplant fertilizer on all of them instead of having separate fertilizers for all the different plants!


Fertilizing is completely up to you! There are MANY products out there you can try but a overall rule of thumb for houseplants is that it is best to under fertilize than over fertilize. Always use the recommended amount or less when applying your fertilizer to houseplants.


Propagation

African Violets can easily be propagated by leaf cuttings. Cut off a healthy leaf with it's stem (AKA petiole) at the main stem of your plant allowing for about 1 to 1.5 inches of the stem to be available to work with. Place the stem at a 45 degree angle in potting mix. Keep the soil consistently moist while the stem it's producing roots. You should see a small new plant starting to form in about 6-8 weeks. Allow the new plant to grow a bit larger before repotting it. Increasing the humidity of a propagated leaf cutting could help to speed up the process also. Do not fertilize until you have repotted your new African Violet.

I haven't tried propagating African Violets but I am definitely going to try after hearing how easy it can be!


Streptocarpus "Harmony's Hot Flash"

Flowers

The main reason people buy African Violets is for their beautiful, long lasting blooms. They come in every color imaginable and have unique petal textures. I've seen them in white, yellow, pink, purple, red, and a combination of colors! I've also seen textures from ruffled flowers or double blooming flowers too!


Usually the blooms will start around April or May and keep blooming into September or October. African Violets appreciate the darker winters and this helps the plant bloom in spring. There is no need to add extra light in those times. Typically they like to be in about 10-12 hours of bright, indirect light, then 8 hours of darkness for optimal blooming.


I discovered after bringing my first African Violet home, it needs a year or so to adjust to the new light conditions you are giving it. The first year it may not bloom to its fullest potential so just be patient! After about a year or so sitting in the same window, my African Violet had blooms from May until October!


Other Facts

  • Part of the Gesneriaceae Family.

Tiny white flowers forming at the crown
  • Other plants in this family are Goldfish Plant and Lipstick Plant.

  • Native primarily Eastern Africa, specifically Tanzania.

  • In its native habitat, you will find African Violets growing on the ground in-between rocks to get optimal oxygen to its roots.

  • African Violets have varieties that are considered standard, semi-miniature or miniature. The miniature plant may only reach 3" wide, while your standard could reach 15" wide. The plant growth will always be wider than it is tall.

  • There are some African Violet varieties with white variegated leaves! I have one and it is AMAZING! It adds another color dimension on your plant. Not only do the leaves sometimes come variegated but you can also find some African Violets with ruffled leaf edges!

  • These plants cannot tolerate cold water, so make sure to use lukewarm water. If you use cold water, it could cause some brown spots on leaves.

Brown spots potentially from cold water
  • It is normal for the lower leaves to brown and shrivel. Just cut these back as it happens.

  • Wait until your African Violet is rootbound and the blooms are spent before repotting

  • These plants are non-toxic to pets and people!

  • Lots of people question what they should plant their African Violets in. I believe this is because there are "African Violet Potting Mixes" available and this makes everyone second guess their decisions! You DO NOT have to buy those potting mixes if you don't want to! You can use any potting mix as long as you're mixing it with something that helps with drainage. Adding vermiculite or perlite will do the trick! I use Happy Frog Potting Mix and Espoma Perlite for drainage. You also do not need to use these brands, this is what is available near me. That being said, I do love these brands (Fox Farm and Espoma). If you are looking for a recommendation, these are great!


Instagram Q&A

I asked followers if they had any specific plant questions I could address in this podcast and blog. Here are the questions and answers for African Violets...


"How to rebloom" and "How to get to bloom"

Flower buds continue forming below flowers
  • I talk about this a bit in the Flower section but when I brought my African Violet home I assumed it may take a little bit to acclimate to the new sunlight I would be giving it. For about two years, it did bloom on and off throughout the summer but the third year I had it (last summer) it just exploded with blooms. I think patience is needed and an understanding of its requirements. I moved a couple times with this plant so it had to adjust to new lighting every time. If you keep it consistently in the same light it will adjust faster and you should see long lasting blooms. If you've had your African Violet for a while and you are having a hard time getting it to rebloom, consider moving it to an east or west window with bright, indirect light. In order for African Violets to bloom they do like the darker nights in winter so you don't need to apply extra light. If you aren't already, try applying fertilizer in early spring to help boost the flowers as well. If your African Violet is older, and has developed multiple crowns, I would remove them. This way the plants energy can focus on one central place to bloom (could propagate those crowns too).


"My cousin gave me stem cuttings and said they'd root. About how long will it take?"

  • I know I talked about this in the propagation section a bit but the timeline depends slightly on the conditions you have it in. Usually after about 1 month, roots will start forming in the soil you planted the stem cutting in. Just make sure to keep the soil moist. After about 2 months you should see new tiny leaves popping out of the soil. Around 3-4 months, the plant should be large enough, and established, to repot into a more draining potting mix.


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FUN FACTS:

  • My Mom got me a book called The Language of Houseplants by Cheralyn Darcey which explains the meaning, energy, and qualities for each plant. Cheralyn says African Violets mean "protection, direction, self-confidence, higher learning." Its uses are to "lift the energy in any space and bring illumination to those who feel they are overburdened or lost." Not only does this book include those insights, it also addresses the care needs for plants too! Very insightful!

Always written with extreme plant passion!

Love, Holly



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