Saintpaulia wnanthe is named after Walter von Saint Paul-Illaire, who found the species growing in East Africa, in 1893, when he was the District Governor of the former German Colony there. This is a plant which is nearly always referred to by its common name of African violet, and it is so well known that it is not really necessary to describe it.
African violets can be grown from seed but it is better to buy plants as, by this means, you can select plants in flower, choosing the flowers which have the greatest appeal to you. Plants grown from seed may not produce flowers which give you the same pleasure, and could prove disappointing, so if you only intend to grow a few plants, it is better to purchase plants in flower and propagate your further requirements by means of leaf cuttings.
Although these plants are called African violets, there are varieties with flowers in different shades of pink and red as well as violets and blues; there is also a white variety. In addition there are cultivars which have flowers with white-edged petals, and bicolours blue and white. There is also a considerable variation in the flowers themselves, including single flowers, double flowers, plain-edged petals, frilly-edgcd petals and so on.
Although many named varieties have been raised, nurserymen do not usually offer plants by name, so when selecting a plant you have to be guided by other considerations. The two main points to look for are thick flower stems, as this usually means that the plant will be fioriferous, and dark green leaves. One of the many causes of losses when growing African violets is the plant rotting, and plants with light green leaves are more likely to suffer from this complaint.
SjihipjttUd imatttka h better known as the African Violet, despite many of the hybrids having pink, red. blue or white flowers.
As the plants are slow-growing they can usually be grown in the same pot for two years. They have rather small fibrous roots and do well in a soilless potting compost. Plants which have been purchased or potted on will not require feeding for the first year, but in the second year you might find it necessary to feed with a balanced liquid fertilizer, every three or four weeks, if the plant does not appear to be making any new growth.
African violets are not easy plants to grow in the house and it is necessary to strive to provide the conditions they require in regard to light, heat and atmosphere. The first requirement for continuous flowering is good light. Like most flowering pot plants the African violet must be kept out of direct sunlight in the spring, summer and early autumn, at times when the sun is hot, otherwise the leaves will burn.
In the house, windows facing west, north or east should prove suitable in the summer months, but in the winter a south-facing window would probably prove more suitable.
The ideal growing temperature is around 70"F (21°C) during the day, and 55-60°F (13-15°C) during the hours of darkness, but when growing at these temperatures it is essential to avoid the atmosphere becoming too dry.
One of the main difficulties in meeting with success with this plant, in the house, is that it requires a really humid atmosphere to thrive. When the air temperature inside a room in a house is 70°F(21°C), the air is far too dry for the plant's requirements and it is necessary to try to provide some local moisture in the air in the immediate vicinity of the plant.
A good way of doing this is to put a layer of pebbles, about 1 in (2.5 cm) deep, in a bowl and pour water in the bowl to fust below the level of the pebbles. Stand the plant pot on the pebbles, in the centre of the bowl, and the water constantly evaporating all round the plant should provide sufficient moisture to keep it happy.
Perhaps the best procedure to adopt with African violets is to experiment by putting plants in different positions in the house, to ascertain where the plant thrives best. One of the main reasons for the loss of African violets is the rotting of the plants, and this is often caused by overwatering. The amount of water a plant needs, and the frequency of watering, depends on the temperature in which the plant is growing, and also the humidity of the air. Obviously the plant will need to be watered more frequently when growing in a warm dry living room, but even in these conditions it is better to allow the surface of the compost to become dry before watering the plant. Far more plants are lost by overwatering than by under-watering. The African violet is sensitive to the temperature of the water and tepid water should be used; moreover, there should not be any appreciable difference in the temperature of the water between one watering and another. Do not water with cold water on one occasion and tepid water on another occasion. If you keep a full watering-can in a warm room, and always use this after it has been standing for about 24 hours, and only water when the plant requires it, you are not likely to lose any plants.
Should you find that your plants cease to flower, this can be due to several causes. The most likely cause is insufficient light, but it can also be due to the plant not liking its surroundings, the air being too dry or the temperature being too low, or both. Often plants cease flowering in the winter because the daylight is too poor; you can overcome this by giving the plants artificial illumination. African violets are very responsive to artificial light and can be grown very effectively solely by this means. A good source of light to use is warm-white fluorescent tubular lights, which should be placed about 12 in (30 cm) above the plants for 12 to 14 hours per day.
Propagation of African violets is by leaf cuttings, which should be taken in winter, if you are prepared to provide a temperature of 65-70°F (18-21°C), otherwise delay until spring, when the day temperatures will be warmer. Select a leaf from the second or third row, from the outside, and remove it, complete with its stem. Insert the stem about V* in (6 mm) deep in the cutting compost and enclose the pot in a plastic bag, until you can see growth appearing from the base of the leaf stalk.
A mixture of equal parts of peat and sharp sand makes a good cutting compost. Depending on the growing conditions, it will take some four to seven weeks before a clump of plantlets can be seen, and when the individual plantlets are large enough they should be separated from each other and potted in soilless potting compost, in 2l/i-in (6-cm) pots.
The first growth of the cutting is a rosette of leaves which lies flat on the surface, but subsequent rows grow more erect.
It is better to cut off the first flower stems which appear, if you have sufficient patience, because you will be rewarded by a better display from the next batch of flowers. It usually takes about a year for a cutting to produce a good flowering plant.
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