Saintpaulia: African Violet
Many people find African Violets – Saintpaulia ionantha and its varieties – difficult to grow, but this does not prevent them being popular greenhouse and room plants. The, which are borne almost throughout the year, range from rich purple to violet-blue, blue, pink and white in colour. They are extremely attractive, as are the leaves, which are velvety in texture and often pleasantly curled and marked.
Saintpaulias need special shading and watering and higher than average temperatures and humidity. They are best grown in the warmest part of the greenhouse in association with plants like poinsettias which have similar requirements.
Saintpaulias grow better under artificial light than almost any other plant, hence their popularity for growing in plant cases in living rooms where the miniature greenhouse atmosphere, electric lighting and heating suit them very well.
Potting is best done between February and May, small plants in 3-in. pots, larger ones in 4i-in. I find they grow better in soilless compost than the John Innes mixture. Light potting is needed and careful watering at all times, keeping the water away from the leaves. Shade is needed except in winter, and high humidity during the warmer part of the year. In winter the plants need to be kept rather drier.
Saintpaulias can be increased by seed or leaf cuttings. Seed sown in spring provides plants for autumn flowering, and August sowings flower the following year. The very small, dust-like seed is quite difficult to germinate. A temperature of at least 18 to 21°C. (65 to 70°F.) is needed and the seed should be sown thinly on the surface of pans filled with soilless seed compost. The resulting seedlings should be pricked out into trays of soilless potting compost and later transferred to 3-in. pots filled with the same mixture.
Leaf cuttings are an easier method of propagation. Mature leaves are removed from the plants in mid-summer with an inch of stalk and inserted in a mixture of peat and sand. After watering in these are rooted – with shade from the sun – in a warm propagating frame, or the pots can be enclosed in an air-tight polythene bag until rooting occurs. Each leaf may produce up to ten plantlets which should then be potted singly.