Ah African violets, my first plant love. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t grow them. Something about their fuzzy leaves and spongy blossoms drew me in as a child and I’ve been hooked ever since. I remember very clearly the one of my child hood, which got as big as a dinner plate and lived in a pot next to the TV cabinet. It had beautiful deep green leaves and purple flowers. Being a texturally oriented child I would sit by it and stroke its leaves, for which I had aptly named it Fuzzy.
Fuzzy grew strongly for years under the care of my mother, but eventually didn’t survive a transplant to a bigger pot. We also had several smaller African violets floating around the house that we had propagated from leaves that had broken off Fuzzy. It was from African violets that I learned that some plants could be grown from cuttings.
My current African violet was given to me by my Nana last January. When I first got it my plant had multiple crowns as commercially grown African violets often do. I split the crowns (Gardening on Cloud 9 has a good tutorial on how to do this) and the plant has been growing happily ever since. Although African violets have a reputation of being difficult to take care for, this is not the case at all. African violets make houseplants as they will grow and flower under conditions found in most homes. Give them light, but not too much, moderate temperatures, and draft free growing locations and you’ll have a happy healthy plant.
African violets were discovered in Tanzania in 1892 by Baron Walter von Saint Paul-Illare. He sent specimens of two species to his father in Germany, and it is from these two species that most of the common varieties descend. There are now over 10,000 varieties of African violets. They are classified typically by their flower color (red, blue, purple, lavender, pink, white, or bicolor), flower shape (single, double, ruffled, wasp, star), leaf color (solid, verigated), or leaf shape (Spoon, ruffled, lacy, holly, plain). Here’s a nice, albeit black and white, pdf of African Violet Flower and Leaf Types. There are African violet societies and shows (kind of like dog shows but for plants) for serious collectors.
Size: African violets can be purchased in a variety of sizes. The most common are Micro-Miniature (< 3in/8cm), Miniature (3in/8cm – 6in/15cm), Semi-Miniature (6in/15cm – 8in/20cm), Standard (8in/20cm – 16in/41cm), and Large (>16 in/41cm).
Water Requirements: African violets like moist but not soggy soil. If the soil is too wet the plant can be susceptible to fungal problems and rot. I personally have found that watering when the soil feels dry to the depth of an inch keeps my plant happy.
Soil Requirements: The soil you plant your African violet in should be light and porous. Drainage is particularly important as poor drainage can lead to problems. A slightly acidic soil, ranging from 6.0 – 6.5 pH is preferred. Many places sell specialized soil for African violets.
Light Requirements: African violets like moderate to bright indirect, indoor light. Direct sunlight can be too intense and burn the plant.
Temperature Requirements: African violets have a similar comfortable temperature range to humans, between 60 – 80°F (15.5 – 26.6°C). If kept in temperatures too warm, the leaves may shrivel up and drop off. If the temperature is too cold, the African violet will wilt and become vulnerable to rot.
Nutrient Requirements: African violets are typically fertilized with 20-20-20 or 15-30-15 water-soluble fertilizers. It is recommended that you fertilize every time you water (I fertilize about every 3rd to 4th time and haven’t had any negative effects). Specialized fertilizer is available for purchase as well.
Pruning: Pruning is typically not required for African violets. Older plants can develop a stem as the lower leaves die off (this is normal) and may need to be repotted. It is possible to propagate African violets from leaf cuttings.
Pests: While African violets are susceptible to mealy bugs and mites, the most common ailment is rot. This can be avoided by not over-watering your plant.
Valley Violets – History of african violets.
Auburn – Extensive information about african violet history and care.
University of Florida Extension – Information about care and pests.
Optimara – Detailed instructions for how to care for African violets. Optimara is also one of the major commercial suppliers of African violets
Missouri Botanical Gardens – Quite possibly everything you’d want to know about African violets. Has a useful glossary of terms.
African Violet Society of Philadelphia – An example of African violet societies.