There are no shrinking violets in Grandma's house . No, her house is filled with a particular perennial planted in pots, and it's one of the most popular houseplants known to gardeners: the African violet. These bright bloomers offer up flowers all year long. They're nostalgic plantings, and our childhood memories are filled with them, their purple, pink, and white blooms peeking out from windowsills and their fuzzy leaves inching over the lips of terracotta pots. Grandma loved African violets, and we do too. Read on for more information on these houseplants and the tips you need to plant and care for your own.
What Are African Violets?
African violets are popular perennials grown as compact houseplants. They're members of the family Gesneriaceae and the genus Saintpaulia . Their blooms have a wonderful and wide-ranging variety of colors and forms, and their dark green leaves have a soft, fuzzy texture. According to The Southern Living Garden Book, "Most are hybrids derived from several species native to east Africa. They form clumps of velvety green leaves that may be roundish or pointed. Some grow big enough to command a 6-inch pot." The smallest kinds are tiny enough to fit in a teacup. The popularity and ubiquity of these plants comes from the fact that in the right conditions, African violets will bloom continuously—so if you want blooms in your home year-round, this is the planting for you.
What Do African Violets Look Like?
When it comes to the sheer variety of appearance, African violets are astonishing. From shape to size to color, there is no shortage of variations, including single, semi-double, and double flowers, as well as fringed, smooth, and ruffled petals. They bloom in a rainbow of colors, including blue, purple, lavender, pink, magenta, burgundy, crimson, and white. They also produce bi-color flowers, and several have been known to bloom in green hues.
According to The Southern Living Garden Book, "The original species bear pale blue to lavender and purple blossoms that are typically five-petaled—with two smaller petals at the top of the flower, three larger ones below. Hybrids also include flowers in bell, cup, and star shapes, in colors including not only blues and purples but also white, various pink shades, burgundy, and crimson."
How Do I Care for African Violets?
African violets love bright, indirect light—16 hours per day is ideal, plus 8 hours of darkness. They should be kept away from direct sunlight. They also thrive in environments with high humidity and when planted in small pots that don't allow the roots to spread out much. They require soil that both retains moisture and drains quickly—moist, but well-drained and certainly not soggy. To make your own soil that will be perfect for African violets, The Southern Living Garden Book recommends you "use 3 parts peat moss to 1 part perlite and 1 part compost or sterilized loam." To encourage new growth, you should regularly remove old blooms and spent foliage.
Watering African violets requires a specific process. The plants should be watered from above or below; take care to avoid wetting the root crown or leaves. The Southern Living Garden Book recommends watering from below, "To do this, set the pot in a saucer filled with water as long as it takes the soil to become fully moist, and then dump the remaining water from the saucer. Or use a self-watering African violet pot that essentially does the job for you. Don't use soft, filtered water. Let tap water stand overnight before using it to let the chlorine evaporate and the water assume room temperature."
Established African violets can be maintained with a feeding of slightly acid fertilizer every four to six weeks, or when the plant looks like it needs a boost of energy.
Which African Violets Should I Plant?
When planting African violets, begin with those in widely recommended series, including Artist's Palette, Island, MyViolet, Rhapsodie, US State, and Victorian Charm. Some African violets have even been to the moon: The EverFloris series grew from seeds that flew to space on a space shuttle. The seeds spent six years in orbit, then returned to Earth and were planted, resulting in several interesting mutations including bigger plants (50% bigger!), different bloom clusters, and continuous, year-round blooming.
Do you have memories of African violets from childhood? Do you tend African violets as houseplants in your home?
Bohle S, Perez Montaño HS, Bille M, Turnbull D. Evolution of soil on Mars. A&G: News & Reviews in Astronomy & Geology . 57(2):2.18-2.23. doi: 0.1093/astrogeo/atw071