Overview and History
The African Violet Saintpaulia ionantha was originally discovered in 1892 by Walter von Saint-Paul-Illaire in the wooded Usambara mountains near the border of Kenya and Tanzania in Africa. In the fall of 1892, the plant was sent to the Herrenhausen Greenhouse in Hanover, Germany. Master Gardener and Botanist Hermann Wedland recorded the plant for the first time as a member of the Gesneriad family.
The African Violet was exhibited for the first time in 1893 and caught the attention of the public. The first commercial hybrids debuted in 1927. Nearly 100 years have passed with many innovations that have made the African Violet one of the most popular house plants in the world.
The Breeder of Many of the New African Violet Varieties
One of the most successful breeders is the Holtkamp family in Germany who has been breeding African Violets since 1935. In addition to introducing many colors and forms, they also developed essential characteristics. For example, they developed the non-dropping flower variety “Elfriede,” the semper florens (always flowering) types, then the multi-fluorescent varieties and now filantherless (flowers without the filament and anther) characteristics, all of which have made African Violets very interesting and exciting. Many of these amazing characteristics can be found in most of the plants available today.
Basic Types of African Violets
Today’s African Violets come in what appears to be limitless colors, shapes, sizes, and forms. Enthusiastic breeders all over the world have brought out the best the Gesneriad Saintpaulia ionantha has to offer. Its ease for mutations, playful flower shapes and colors, and leaf variations make it especially fun to collect.
African Violet Leaf Types: A Varied Foliage Feast
African Violet Leaf Colors: A Rainbow of Foliage
African Violet Flower Types: A Visual Delight
African Violet Flowers: A Kaleidoscope of Colors
African Violets: An Array of Sizes to Choose From
African Violet Variety Names
The first commercial hybrids were introduced in 1927, all of which had blue flowers. It was from the vintage variety “Blue Boy” that the first double was developed in 1939. In 1942 the American company Brockner developed the first pink violet on the market, that same year the first girl-leaf (having lobes) variety was derived from “Blue Boy” at Ulery Greenhouses in Springfield OH. The first white violet was bred soon after by Peter Ruggeri, named simply “White Lady”. Hermann Holtkamp, Sr. in Germany introduced the “Biedermeier” style: a single crown, clustered bouquet plant rather than multiples that were common up until that point.
Today, commercial African Violets are grown almost exclusively in this style. Today’s continuing innovations help make these plants more resistant to pest and fungal issues and longer lasting. This also allows it to be grown more environmentally sustainable. All these innovations have made today’s African Violets very easy to grow and care for and a truly rewarding experience for both casual home gardeners and passionate collectors.
How to Grow African Violets
- African Violets thrive in filtered sunlight.
- Never place in full sun!
- LED and fluorescent lights are okay
- Keep soil moist but not soggy.
- Place in a 1” deep tray, water from below, wait 30 minutes, and drain any excess.
- Cold water left on the leaves can cause spotting.
- Let the soil get 80% dry once in a while.
- Overwatering can cause root rot and wilting.
- Use room temperature water.
Temperature and Humidity:
- African Violets grow best at room temperature. 75° to 85°F (23°-30°C) but can tolerate short periods of lows of 55° (13°C) without damage.
- African violets need at least 50% humidity to bloom.
- Avoid drafty areas and sudden temperature changes, which will inhibit blooming and can cause powdery mildew.
- To increase humidity, place pebbles in a shallow tray of water near or under the violets.
Soil & Repotting:
- African violets bloom best when they are rootbound.
- Keep them in a 4-inch (10cm) to 6-inch (15cm) pot.
- The best potting soil for African Violets contains little or no dirt at all, specialty blends are very light and porous. This enhances aeration while keeping the soil moist, but not soggy.
- Compact mixes can easily crush the delicate roots.
- The pH should be between 5.8 and 6.2. Too high or too low prevents nutrients from being absorbed.
- Re-pot in fresh soil once per year for more blooms!
Keep Your African Violet Blooming:
- Groom as needed by removing wilted or dead outer leaves and any spent flowers. This will encourage more flowering.
- You will get more blooms if you remove sucker plants that split from the main crown. These can be planted or discarded.
- Only grow one plant per pot.
- If the plant has not bloomed in over 2 months, then conditions need to be changed to promote flowering.
- Try a different window, and add some non-urea African Violet fertilizer to your water.
- Make sure your humidity & watering are fairly consistent.
- Adjust conditions a little and it will resume blooming.
Winter Care Tips for Your African Violets:
- Sustained temperatures below 55°F (13°C) will damage or kill African Violets.
- Do not let leaves touch cold windows and avoid cold drafts.
- Use a humidifier as indoor air can be too dry during the heating season.
- Check soil moisture more frequently during winter.
- If your violet stretches out or stops blooming, then move to a brighter spot or use artificial lights.
- Lesson To Remember: If a plant is overly dry, only give enough water to moisten the soil, skip 2 days, water a little, skip another 2 days then resume normal weekly watering.
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Each state in the U.S. has its own list of invasive species. Before trying a new plant in your garden, refer to the USDA’s National Invasive Species Information website or check with local agencies such as an Extension specialist.