African violets (Saintpaulia) have come a long way since their introduction into the horticultural world in 1892 when Baron Walter von Saint Paul discovered them in East Africa. Since their introduction into Germany by Baron von Saint Paul, plant lovers worldwide have cultivated and hybridized the African violet, producing thousands of varieties. In just a little over 100 years, the African violet has conquered the horticultural world, with the USDA's most recent survey of the top 15 states producing plants indicates that among just 15 states, over 29 million African violet were produced in 2012.
If you thought all African violets were like your grandmother's cherished purple violet with the dark-green, fuzzy leaves, you're in for a treat. Today's African violet come in a wide variety of rainbow-flowered hues with sizes and growing habits to tempt even the most hardened violet-hater. The violets today aren't your grandmother's violets, that's for sure.
African Violet Care
One reason why African violets remain popular a century after their introduction is their undemanding nature. Violets thrive in typical household conditions, enjoying temperatures in the 60 - 70 degree range and moderate humidity. They require friable potting soil for their fine root systems and a simple liquid 10-10-10 African violet fertilizer, applied according to package directions, suits them just fine. The best light for African violets is bright, indirect light, such as an east or west-facing window. They also thrive under fluorescent lighting, and can be grown in office buildings or under artificial plant lights. You can purchase plants almost anywhere or from several mail order companies. Many mail-order companies sell leaf cuttings, which can be rooted and grown into mature plants.
Leaf cuttings are less expensive than fully grown plants and enable the African violet fancier to afford a wider collection of plants on a tight budget.
Standard African Violets
The traditional African violets (Saintpaulia) seen in florist shops, greenhouses and garden centers worldwide are frequently referred to as Standard African violets. These plants grow to approximately 8 inches in diameter at maturity. Their flowers may be single or double, ruffled or smooth-edged, and in a variety of colors ranging from white to deepest purple or burgundy. Leaf color may be any shade of green, and some leaves are mottled.
Semiminiatures are very similar to standards, but achieve a smaller diameter. Most attain a maximum diameter of 6". Like standard violets, they come in a wide range of colors, petal shapes, and leaf colors. They require similar growing conditions as standard violets.
Miniature African Violets
Miniature African violets are great for people with limited space. The tiniest "micro mini" violets are the size of half-dollar coins, with diminutive flowers reminiscent of fairy bells. Larger "mini" violets can grow to about 6" in diameter at maturity; most top out around 3 - 4". They tend to grow a little more slowly than their standard-sized counterparts and require the standard African violet growing conditions. Many fanciers display their miniature violets in colorful tea cups, adding a bit of whimsy to the prosaic houseplant collection.
Trailing African Violets
Trailing violets offer the best of all sizes of African violets combined with multiple crowns and a sprawling growth habit that make these violets look like climbing or trailing plants. Trailing African violets are available in standard, semiminiature and miniature sizes. Flower colors include white, pale pinks, speckled flowers, and dark purples and burgundy shades.
African violet chimera flowers sport a pale background with darker "pinwheel" type stripes. Many of the white and pink varieties resemble peppermint candies. Chimeras often produce differently colored plants from leaf cuttings, so if you're interested in growing chimeras, purchase a mature plant. They range in size from smaller plants to the standard 8-inch diameter mature plant size.
Starting an African Violet Collection
You can collect African violets by size type, leaf color or flower color. Many aficionados begin with a few plants purchased from their local greenhouse only to find their curiosity piqued by newer introductions not readily available at local stores. Then the hunt is on for online sources for rare and unusual specimens.
African violets are sold online as either potted plants or leaf cuttings. Leaf cuttings are usually half the price but run a slightly higher risk of failing to grow. Although African violets are generally easy to propagate, it is worth paying a little more for potted plants if you want a higher chance of success or a shorter time to wait for blossoms.
Another way to enjoy African violets is to incorporate them into terrarium gardens. Miniature violets in particular lend themselves to the terrarium or container garden, and thrive with ferns and similar plants in the humid container environment.
Not Your Grandmother's Violets
So if you thought that all African violets were boring single petal, dark purple flowering plants, think again. From pure white to peppermint candy striped, there's an African violet for everyone among the plethora of choices.