The first time somebody told me about girl-leafed violets, I thought they were pulling my leg. But I’ve fallen in love with the look of these ruffled, cupped, light-centered leaves. I’d like to share some of my favorites with you, along with tips for getting them to look their best.
"Girl" foliage doesn't get its name by being frilly or pretty (although it's both!) but from the history of hybrid African violets. It's simple enough. The first registered violet to exhibit this leaf type was 'Blue Girl', hybridized from 'Blue Boy' by Ulery in 1941. Later hybridizers included "girl" in the names of many new cultivars with girl foliage like 'Peppermint Girl', 'Silly Girl', 'Little Dutch Girl', 'Ma's Melody Girl' and 'Lil Rich Girl'. Some names were variations on the feminine theme including 'Cambride Missy', Ramblin' Lassie', 'Cupie Doll' and 'Lady Trail'.
What exactly makes a leaf a "girl" leaf? Typically, girl leaves have scalloped, often wavy edges. Another name for this type of foliage is simply "scalloped." The center of the leaf, where its base meets the stem, is usually light-colored and slightly cupped. Because this leaf shape is less flat than most, the leaves have a tendency to get twisted and contorted, especially if crowded.
The best solution I've found for creating a reasonably symmetrical rosette is to carefully remove every other row of leaves. This gives the remaining leaves more room, and they're more likely to grow out straight as they mature. The alternative is to decide you like a bit of craziness in these violets and to just let them do their thing. Messy leaves, like tousled curls on a toddler, have their own charm.
One exception seems to be ‘Sure to Please', a semi-miniature variety with unusually symmetric and well behaved girl foliage. Its variegated blooms and cheerful bright green leaves are indeed "sure to please!" Trailers can also be easier to coax into a pleasing form, since they don't form a simple rosette anyway. 'Biscayne Bay' and the variegated 'Ramblin' Reflections' are two of my favorite girl-leafed trailers, and both can get quite large. Click these links for more information about trailing African violet varieties and tips for growing trailers.
Miniature African violets with girl foliage can be especially charming. Most tips for growing minis apply equally to those with girl foliage, although grooming for symmetry can be more of a challenge because of their small size. If they've been neglected, it can be hard to reshape a mini with overcrowded leaves. In the process, you may end up breaking off far more leaves than you intended. Sometimes, the best solution may be to start over, growing a new little plant from a leaf of the original.
The slightly cupped shape of most girl foliage adds to its charm. A little extra care may be needed, however, to prevent problems with girl leaves. If you water your African violets from the top, or when you give them a bath at the sink, you'll find these leaves are more likely to hold excess water. Be sure to blot water carefully from the leaves with the end of a paper towel or a microfiber cloth, especially if water collects on the crown of the plant. Powdery mildew also seems to be a more of a challenge to treat on the denser, often contorted foliage of girl leafed African violets. The best treatment is prevention, not crowding your plants so they get good air flow around them and avoiding cooler, fluctuating temperatures.
Don't be discouraged by the extra effort these plants may seem to need! They're really not that demanding. You can grow them without treating them at all differently from other African violets. With just a little additional attention, you can turn them into the show-off "princesses" of your plant shelf.
Dave's Garden subscribers can use the "advanced search" feature within PlantFiles to look for certain plants with key characteristics. This lets you search for African violets with girl foliage, or only trailing African violets with girl foliage, or only miniature African violets with girl foliage and white blooms. Take some time to explore this useful search tool; it's a wonderful way to find just the plant or plant you're looking for!
I hope you'll consider trying a girl-leafed African violet. Whether large or small, single-crowned or trailer, named hybrid or grocery store "find," their unique foliage will win your heart!
Photos by Jill M Nicolaus. The thumbnail photo is of 'Silly Girl', a plant that went to my niece for her birthday.
For more information, move your mouse over images and links (let the cursor hover for a few seconds, and a pop-up caption will appear).
 Optimara glossary definition of scalloped or girl type foliage.
About Jill M. Nicolaus
Better known as "Critter" on DG, Jill lives in Frederick, MD, where she tries to fit as many plants as possible into a suburban back yard. Sunshine Girl's crocus lawn (a gift from her DG "family") is in bloom, so Spring is on its way! We're looking forward to sowing seeds, picking daffodils, and looking for Easter Bunny Apprentices.
(Images in my articles are from my photos, unless otherwise credited.)