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Saintpaulia

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  • Indoor Plants
Saintpaulia 'Match Mate'
Photo: Jardin botanique de Montréal

Onglets

Botany

Origin and description

Saintpaulia is native to the Usambara Mountains of Tanzania, where it was discovered in 1892. The species’ common name of African violet comes from the flowers’ resemblance to violets, which in fact belong to another entirely unrelated genus (Viola). Their small size and abundant blooms, along with the tremendous variety of cultivars available, make these very popular flowering plants. Most African violets on the market are single- or double-flowered hybrids. The flowers may be bicoloured, white, blue, purple, coral, pink or even yellow. The rosette-forming leaves may be different shades of green or variegated.

Species, cultivars and related plants

Saintpaulia confusa and Saintpaulia diplotricha form a rosette of round, downy, slightly serrated leaves. The flowers are light mauve with purple margins. Saintpaulia grotei is a large-leafed trailing African violet. Its stems may be 20 cm long and its flower stalk up to 18 cm. The flowers are dark purple with paler margins.

Toxicity

As a precaution, keep this plant out of the reach of children.

Common name

Saintpaulia / African violet

Latin name (genus)

Saintpaulia ionantha

French common name

Botanical family

  • Gesneriaceae
Horticulture

Growing conditions

An African violet requires bright light in winter and filtered sunlight in summer. Place it near a south- or west-facing window in winter and an east-facing one, out of direct sunlight, in summer. These plants also thrive under artificial lighting. Ideal temperatures are 21 to 27ºC in daytime, with a difference of 5ºC between daytime and nighttime temperatures, and a minimum of 18ºC. Cultivars with variegated foliage may require slightly cooler temperatures. Avoid cold drafts and keep relative humidity high. You can set the pot on a saucer filled with gravel and water. Be careful not to get water on the leaves or flowers.

Easy to grow?

African violets are easy to grow if given high humidity and provided that the leaves are kept dry between waterings. They may bloom repeatedly if given 14 to 16 hours of sunlight a day in winter.

Watering and fertilizer

Morning is the best time to water a plant. Add enough water to thoroughly moisten the soil but avoid wetting the foliage and remove any water standing in the saucer. Allow the soil to dry out slightly between waterings. Always use room-temperature water, ideally letting it rest for 24 hours first. During the vegetative growth period, fertilize with a balanced plant food like 20-20-20, and when in bloom use a high-phosphorus fertilizer like 15-30-15. It is best to feed an African violet more frequently and at reduced strength. For instance, you can fertilize at quarter-strength with every watering or at half-strength every other week. Moisten the soil before feeding to avoid burning the roots.

Pruning and maintenance

Remove faded blooms and dead leaves. Dust the leaves with a small, soft brush. If you water the plant from the bottom, flush it from the top occasionally to wash away accumulated mineral salts. Turn the plant frequently to preserve its symmetry.

Repotting

An African violet can live for years in the same pot. The plant’s spread should be three times the width of the pot before it is repotted. When the leaves become crowded and crossed, move it into a slightly larger pot in the spring. Divide and pot up any offshoots. The potting mixture should be acidic, light and well-aerated, with good drainage. It may be soil-less and contain a large proportion of peat moss and coarse sand or perlite.

See also

Pests and diseases
  • Cyclamen mites
  • Root rot
Physiological disorders

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