space violet

We've all heard the famous Star Trek quote that starts; 'Space, the final frontier...' and ends with '...where no man has gone before.' Well, man (and woman) aren't the only living things that have recently gone into space and regular gardeners can have a piece of the cosmos for themselves too.

I have a space violet. Yes, my pretty little African violet was part of an experiment that resulted in a new and exciting strain that indoor gardeners have embraced with open arms. However, the journey to my garden window started many years ago in 1984.

Orbiting above the Earth is NASA's Long Term Exposure Facility where experiments that study the effects of weightlessness and cosmic radiation take place. Corporations and companies can book an area of this satellite and place their own items aboard to better understand the conditions of outer space.

The Optimara company sent 25,000 African violet seeds to this facility aboard one of the space shuttles in 1984 and due to scheduling and the tragic loss of the Shuttle Challenger, the 11 month mission turned in to 6 years. When the seeds finally returned to Earth in 1990 the resulting plants displayed some extraordinary mutations and the EverFloris line was born.

space violetThe most remarkable trait that these violets exhibit is something called multiflorescence. This term was coined by Optimara to describe a huge amount of flowering stems that are almost always in bloom. I can attest to this myself. I've had my space violet for 18 months now and there has only been about a 4 week period where my plant wasn't in glorious bloom. The blooms are larger than a regular African violet and so are the plants. My space violet measures over 14” in diameter and it isn't finished growing yet. I still have my plant in a 4” pot and they recommend a 6” pot for fully-grown space violets. The image (at right) shows my space violet beside one of my 'normal' African violets. Notice the difference in size and the amount of blooms the plant produces!

Space Violets exhibit beautiful ruffled flowers, most of them with a picotee edge of chartreuse green or white. The leaves have a ruffled 'girly' appearance and the plants are quite attractive. We have several Space Violet images in PlantFiles where members have shared their images with us at this link.

self watering potCare for your space violets like any other African violet. They like soil that stays evenly moist and most gardeners prefer to keep them in self-watering pots. That way, moisture is constantly delivered to the roots, but the leaves stay dry, which is important. Wet leaves create unsightly spots and the plants are prone to rot. Keep your African violets out of direct sunlight, but make sure they have bright, filtered light. My space violets live by my western window that has slatted shades. The bright light keeps them healthy, but they do not cook in direct sun. The room temperature averages around 68 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. I've even made my own self-watering containers using small, low vases or candle holders and clay pots. I silicone the drain hole closed in the clay pot so that the plant doesn't receive too much moisture while the un-glazed clay is porous enough to keep the soil moist. I keep special African violet food dissolved in a gallon of water and use that each time I replenish the water levels to ensure healthy plants with many blooms.

There are a number of different varieties and you can either order them by mail or receive email alerts when a shipment is scheduled for a local retailer. I have two new-to-me plants that I ordered via the mail and they arrived in beautiful condition, so these plants ship well. You can also purchase just the leaves, as African violets are propagated by planting a leaf in moist soil and waiting for a new plant to emerge.

Enjoy a bit of the cosmos with a Space Violet. It is sure to be a great conversation piece when friends come to visit!