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African violets and collectible houseplants

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About African violets

African violets (or Saintpaulia) are a genus of plants within the Gesneriad family.  Discovered in 1892 by Baron von St Paul (hence the botanical name), many species can still be found growing in the Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania and Kenya.  Though African violet geography is tropical, most species reside in the mountains, at altitude, and under the cover of other plants.  This makes African violets ideal for the indoor home garden or window--requiring only moderate ("room") temperatures and light.  Though many of the native Saintpaulia are now threatened by loss of habitat, millions of their modern descendants are grown throughout the world in homes of collectors and hobbyists.  As you'll see by viewing our site and catalog, modern African violet hybrids can be spectacular and very different from the simple species first discovered more than a century ago.  Much information about their care and environment can be found throughout these pages.

Standard African violet

Grow them large.Standard African violets are those varieties that, when mature, will exceed 8" in diameter.  In practice, most grow to about 10-12".  When grown for exhibition, they can exceed 18-24" across.  We grow only those varieties that we deem superior to others in growth and blooming habit.  These aren't your usual, run-of-the mill supermarket African violets!  Only their size is ordinary.

Pictured at left:  Olive with a 'Best in Show' exhibit, 'Opera's il Straniero'

Grow them tiny.  We specialize in miniature and semiminiature African violets.  When mature, miniatures grow to less than 6" in diameter, semiminis to less than 8".  With proper culture, actual plant size usually is much smaller in practice.  The smallest of them might be less than 2 or 3" from leaf tip to leaf tip! Because these are small-growing plants and have small root systems, never use a pot bigger than 2 1/2" in diameter, even less for the smallest varieties.

Grow them rare and unusual. 'Chimera' varieties are violets for which propagation by leaf cuttings will not produce plantlets identical to the original plant.  These are typically the "pinwheel" blossomed varieties that show broad center and side stripes of different colors. These are quite unusual, genetically more rare, and can be propagated only by suckers.  "Leaf" chimeras are varieties whose foliage can only be reproduced by sucker propagation.  Variegation on leaf chimeras is very rare and is completely immune to changes in temperature, environment and age. Care is identical to that of other African violets.  Both miniature and standard chimera African violets are available.

Let them grow.  Trailing African violets are perhaps the easiest to grow and bloom, especially for the novice.  They are naturally branching, spreading, plants that can left to do their 'own thing'.  No need to remove suckers to keep symmetry or encourage blooming.  These violets freely produce extra crowns without sacrificing appearance or bloom--in fact, this increases the potential bloom!  Can let spread in shallow pots, or let hang as baskets in windows--the choice is yours.

Grow them 'native'.  Saintpaulia species are the African violets that all modern hybrids trace the ancestry to.  Many can still be found growing on the hillsides in east Africa.  As most are endangered, some can only be found in the collections of hobbyists.

Just grow them!  Below are some tips on how to grow them best.

Basic Care of African Violets:

  • Light.  Adequate light is important for good growth and bloom.  Try to provide bright, but not hot, sunlight.  If growing under artificial lights, place a two-tube florescent fixture about 12-18" above plants for 12-13 hours each day.
  • Watering.  Use room-temperature water.  Water when the soil feels "dry to the touch".
  • Feeding.  A 'balanced' formula is best (relatively equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium).  Avoid "bloom boosters".  Use each watering, following the directions for that fertilizer.
  • Atmosphere.  African violets like the same conditions you do--moderate temperatures and humidity.  If you feel comfortable, so do they.
  • Soil.  Use a peat-based, "soilless" mix consisting of at least 30-50% coarse vermiculite and/or perlite.  Brand-name "violet soils" are NOT necessarily good for African violets!  General rule: the wetter you keep the soil, the more perlite it should contain.
  • Grooming.  Exept for trailers, do not allow extra crowns (suckers) to develop.  African violets should be grown single-crowned.  Most African violets look best with no more than 5 rows of leaves.
  • Potting.  Repot all plants every 6-12 months.  Most standard African violets, grown as a houseplant, will require a 4-5" pot at maturity.  For minis and semiminis, us a pot no larger than 2 1/2" in diameter.