Saintpaulia x ionantha: African Violet

This plant is a standard item for just about every nursery, it may be seen in every florist’s window and its leaves are posted throughout the world in an exchange of breeding material between specialist growers. There are countless clubs, societies and journals devoted to a single species, or rather hybrids derived from crossings between two basic species: Saintpaulia ionantha and 5. confusa.

The 19 known species are native to Tanzania, where they grow at elevations ranging from sea level to 2,000 m (6,600 ft), generally in the undergrowth of rainforests. All have blue or violet flowers and leaves that are often tomentose.

Saintpaulia confusa differs from S. ionantha by having slightly darker flowers and leaves that, besides being thickly and uniformly tomentose, also have longer, stiffer hairs.

In the 1950s there were already 800 hybrids registered in the USA and, what with the continued popularity of these plants, it may be estimated that their number has doubled since then so that the grower has no problem choosing one to his liking. The range includes white, pale pink, crimson-pink, violet as well as bicolored forms; forms with single, semi-double or double blossoms, with leaves that are variegated, attractively waved, or variously tomentose.

Naturally the plants’ popularity is also due to the ease of cultivation. All they need for good results is a warm room, slight shade, a small pot (they do poorly in a large one) and an ever-moist compost composed of leaf mould, peat and sand or one of the proprietary peat-based composts. For assured success the leaves must never be sprayed or splashed with water, particularly at lower temperatures, for then they become spotted and rot. Propagation is easy by means of leaf cuttings; the leaf stalk should be inserted either in sand or a mixture of peat and sand. They root rapidly and reliably.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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