African Violet



Saintpaulia ionantha



African Violet or Saintpaulia ionantha is one of the most popular houseplants. I cannot remember when I first came across it, but I do remember at one time I was pretty crazy over the African Violet, despite knowing it was not the easiest plant to grow where I stay. I would photograph it up close, turn it around, return to it a dozen times a day. Needless to say, my first African Violet suffered greatly under this excessive attention, and reciprocated by refusing to flower.

The African Violet, as its name suggests, comes from Africa, to be exact, from the rainforests of Nguru mountains of Tanzania and southeastern Kenya. Two British plant enthusiasts, Sir John Kirk and Reverend W.E. Taylor were among the first Westerners to discover it, when they collected and submitted specimens of this plant to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, in 1884 and 1887 respectively. However the specimen were not good enough for scientific identification purposes. In 1892, Baron Walter von Saint Paul Hilaire, the district commissioner of Tanga province in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) send seeds of the African Violet to his father, a plant enthusiast in Germany. Von Saint Paul found the African Violets growing in shady rocky ledges in the Usambara Mountains. He called it the Usambara Violets. When the plants arrived in Germany, it got a new name, Saintpaulia. The name Saintpaulia was accepted as the genus name of the African Violet. Soon related species were also discovered. The species which Walter von Saint Paul sent to his father became known as Saintpaulia ionantha. It is the parent of the many hybrids available today.

The African Violet gained much popularity in Germany, and it soon spread across Europe. It was introduced to North America in 1926, when the firm of Armacost and Royston imported seeds from German and British greenhouses. The type brought in had blue blooms with single, pansy-shaped blossoms. Today, African Violet cultivars total over 2000 and are available with flower in colours ranging from white, to pink, violet, yellow, and of course, blue.

Botanical Name Saintpaulia ionantha
Family Gesneriaceae
Type Indoor Plant
Position African Violets need plenty of light, but not full sun.
Care African Violets are one of those plant that require more tender loving care than the average houseplant. Avoid getting water droplets on the leaves as this will cause stains. Some people stand their plants above a bowl of water to increase its humidity - this should not be necessary if you are living in the tropics. African Violets need light intensity of at least 5000 lux to develop flower buds as well as a long day. For this reason, and especially in temperate climate, the plants are more likely to flower in summer.
Watering As mentioned above, the plant hates water getting on its leaves. Also, African Violet don't tolerate hard water, so if you are living in a hard water area, stay away from watering direct from the tap. Use demineralised or rainwater instead. Keep the soil slightly on the dry side. Excess moisture causes rot. On the other hand, it is also sensitive to dryness, so water when the soil feels dry to the touch, but before it hardens.
Feeding When they are in active growth, the African Violet must be fed once a month. If the plant refuses to flower, use nitrogen-free fertiliser, like those for cacti.
Repotting This should be done about once a year, in spring, using lime-free compost and wide, shallow pots with good drainage..
Propagation African Violets are usually grown from cuttings. Cut a leaf with 2 to 5 cm of stalk, and insert into cutting compost, keeping the temperature at 20°C.
Pests and diseases A host of diseases plight the African Violets. These include bacterial, fungal, viral and parasitic diseases.


African Violet Photo Album

African VioletAfrican Violet, also called Saintpaulia
Author: © Timothy Tye

Saintpaulia ionanthaSaintpaulia ionantha
Author: Bff (cc-by-sa-3.0)

Saintpaulia ionanthaSaintpaulia ionantha
Author: Bff (cc-by-sa-3.0)

African VioletAfrican Violet
Author: RobertoMM (GFDL)

African VioletAfrican Violet
Author: Banana patrol (GFDL)

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