Baxter County Master Gardener Program • University of Arkansas System • Division of Agriculture • © 2013 BCMG
Latin: Saintpaulia ionanth
The African violet (Saintpaulia ionantha) is a member of the tropical Gesneriad family and is related to such plants as gloxinia and streptocarpus. Although the most common color is blue, selections are available in shades of pink, rose, red, purple, violet, white and even yellow. Plants grow in a rosette while young but eventually the stem may elongate to 6 inches or more in length. The fleshy, hairy leaves are to 6 inches long and have the ability to produce plantlets from the leaves, the most common means of propagation.
The African violet was discovered in 1892 by Baron Walter Von Saint Paul about an hour from Tanga on the modern day border of Tanzania and Kenya. The baron, realizing the plant was different, sent specimens to his father in Germany who in turn shared the find with a botanist at Royal Botanic Garden in Hanover. This botanist, Herman Wendland, realized the plant was new to science and named the genus after the Saint Paul family and coined the species name "ionantha" which in Latin means "violet like."
The commercialization of this new crop began almost immediately. The rights to distribute the plant were sold to the German seed company, Ernst Benary, in 1893. This company provided seeds to W.K. Harris, of the Harris Seed Company in Philadelphia, in 1894.
Although grown locally in the United States, the real discovery of African violets by the American public began after 1927 when the Armacost and Royston Nursery in Los Angeles released a number of hybrids including ‘Blue Boy’ and ‘Sailor Boy.’ In the first chain-store venture in plant selling, Woolworth & Co. distributed these new hybrids and spread them throughout the country, making African violet nationwide.
African violets are easy to grow if all of the rules are followed. First, they must have a highly organic potting soil and this potting mix must be kept uniformly moist. To accomplish this task, many growers use various wick watering systems. Plants must be fertilized regularly when making active growth with any balanced houseplant fertilizer or one of the special African violet fertilizers on the market. Being tropical, African violets should never be exposed to temperatures below 55 degrees.
The most exacting requirement for African violet culture is light. These plants are "photo accumulators ," meaning that they require a given quantity of light energy before they will flower. But because they are under story plants, they must never have full sun.
Ideally, plants should have between 500- to 600-foot candles of light, which is about the amount of light received on a north window sill in the summer. In the winter, that amount of light is about what is available in an east window.
Some gardeners choose to use artificial light and place fluorescent lights 12 inches above the violets. If the light is managed correctly and the plants have fertilizer during periods of active growth, it's possible to produce three flushes of blooms a year from the plants.
By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension Horticulturist - Ornamentals
Extension News - November 7, 2003
The holidays are almost here, and our thoughts are focused more to indoor plants. Most folks think of the poinsettia as the only holiday plant. There are a number of different and lovely choices for you to explore this season. Here are a few suggestions that will add color and cheer to your interior landscape, the Anthurium, Cyclamen, and the Kalanchoe. I'm sure there are many others that would also be a lovely addition to your home this time of year.
Anthurium is a rather new addition to our indoor plant repertoire. The Hawaiian flowers have the right colors to choose from red, white or pink spathes of color. One of the benefits is the flowers last for several months. You may also choose to use them as a green houseplant after the blooms are finished but it's difficult to get them to re-bloom for the next holiday season.
Light: Bright, indirect light
Water: Keep moist at all times, but not drenched and let them dry out slightly between waterings.
Temperature: They suffer if below 60 degrees, they are a tropical plant.
Fertilizer: Use a liquid fertilizer throughout the growing period.
All anthuriums prefer plenty of warmth, regular moisture and ample fertilizer. The easiest to grow are the A. scherzerianum and A. andreanum. These plants have been extensively hybridized and are relatively common in garden centers. Flowering anthuriums will flower any time of the year, providing they are healthy. Foliage anthuriums are mostly found at speciality greenhouses or through online nurseries. To grow them best, approximate conditions found in tropical zones, and if necessary, provide a climbing support for foliage varieties.
Cyclamen plants come in a range of reds, pinks and whites. These plants grow from small bulbs called corms. They prefer cool temperatures, and will decline
quickly if kept warm day and night. They prefer bright light and even moisture. The bulbs will rot if the plant is to wet.
While many toss the plants after they bloom, they will re-bloom with proper care. As the foliage begins to dye back, withhold water for a few months. After a rest period, gradually begin to add water. When you see signs of new growth, increase water and sunlight.
The genus Kalanchoe includes more than 100 plants, but only a few are regularly seen in cultivation. Kalanchoes are native to arid areas, and they are popular succulents. Modern hybrids are valued for their interesting leaf-forms or for their flowers. Flowering Kalanchoes are available in red, pink, yellow, or white. Like many succulents, these are not difficult plants to grow, providing you are careful with the water, especially in the winter.
Light: They prefer bright, sunny locations, especially in the summer growing season. During the winter, consider a south-facing window.
Water: Water moderately throughout the summer and reduce watering in the winter. Let the soil surface dry out between waterings, and in the winter, the plant can almost dry out. Watch the fleshy leaves for signs of water distress.
Temperature: They prefer warmth, do not let the temperature fall below 55ºF.
Soil: An ordinary potting soil mix is fine.
Fertilizer: Feed bi-weekly in the summer with a liquid fertilizer, or use slow-release pellets.