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African Violets

Oh, the joy of simple pleasures! African violets houseplants are easy to grow and maintain, rewarding you with clusters of pretty blossoms that brighten even the most dismal surroundings. It can be raining and blowing outside, grey skies, dark of night, but a cluster of blooming African violets will easily dispel the gloom!

With a little tender, loving care, African violets will last for many years in their original container. And, just as they are easy to care for, it is  easy to start more plants from leaf cuttings so you can share them with your friends.

As you might expect, African violets (botanical name "Saintpaulia") are originally from Africa. Although they are not related to wild violets (Viola papilionacea), they are so-called because of the blossom's resemblance to wild violets which are sometimes considered a weed in North America. Since they were discovered by the Baron von Saint Paul in Africa and then sent to Germany where the plants flourished as houseplants, they were named in the Baron's honor - but still commonly called African violets. Although they are easy to grow, with a little extra care, they become one of the most beautiful houseplants you'll ever own!

African violets are from the Gesneriaceae family. They are related to gloxinias and some other plants that might surprise you - including Black Pagoda plant (Aeschynanthus), and the glossy or hairy leaved Columnea species with a trailing habit that makes these plants ideal for hanging baskets. African violets have many beautiful cousins!


From the original violet color, these pretty plants are now available in white, orchid, lavender, shades of pink, red, coral, blues and purple. Their petals may be all the same color, two-toned or multicolor. Likewise, the petals may be smoothly rounded with 5 or 6 distinct petals, or they can be frivolously ruffled with bunches of petals like little bouquets on a stem.

Shown here is a pretty little two-toned dark lavender, double petal flower. Each petal is outlined with a white edge. The petals are fairly round and a bright green. This one has many more buds hidden in the crown and blooms for months without stopping. This is one of my favorite houseplants.

African violets are also characterized by their fleshy, fairly thick and fuzzy, hairy green foliage. The leaves come in varied shades of green, from a pale "sap" green to deep evergreen. Some are splotched with dark greens and very light spots, edged in white. Leaves may be smoothly rounded or deeply veined with scalloped edges. The leaves contain a great deal of water and, when deprived of same, wilt and dry up. The leaves grow rather closely and should be removed when they show signs of aging. Decomposing leaf material is not only unsightly but creates a haven for mold, fungus and rot.


Other varieties of African violets are the Trailers, Miniatures and Semi-miniatures. As you might suspect, the Trailers have sort of a spreading or vine-like appearance. They look very delicate and go well in artistic groupings. Miniatures and Semi-miniatures are smaller, dwarfed versions of the normal size plants. Trailers and Miniatures are great plants when pretty teacups are used as pots.


The best potting mix for African violets is a combination of 1/3 garden loam, 1/3 leaf mold and 1/3 sand. If these are not regular household items for you, my secret to success with African violets is Black Gold, All Purpose Potting Mix. I keep the violets in glazed pottery or clay pots that have drainage holes in the bottom and matching saucers.

There are specially made self-watering pots available, actually a "pot within a pot of water". The inside pot holds the plant with the soil. This pot is of clay or pottery, unglazed, and absorbs water. The outside pot is the reservoir. Fill it about half way with water then place the potted plant inside. As the inside pot absorbs water from the reservoir, the roots of the plant soak it up. Just make sure the reservoir does not go dry. You should also water occasionally from top, making sure not to get water on the leaves.


In North America, African violets are considered houseplants and don't do well if placed out of doors, even just overnight. Besides shocking the plant with extreme temperature changes, you run the risk of plant pests taking residence, or atmospheric born diseases. For additional information on caring for African violets and super-easy tips on propagating plants, see: