Monday, June 17, 2024
Local Gardener

TNT African violets

1. Genus and epithet

In Latin, African violets are Saintpaulia ionantha. They are named after Baron Walter von Saint Paul-Illaire, a German colonial official, who is credited with the discovery of the plant in East Africa. In 1892, Baron Saint Paul found the violet-like flowers while he was on a botanical expedition in what is now Tanzania. He sent seeds of the plant back to his father in Germany. The “ionantha” simply means “with violet flowers”.

2. Habitat.

African violets in the wild are usually found in shaded, rocky areas with high humidity levels. They often grow as understorey plants in the forest. Some species exhibit epiphytic tendencies, meaning they can grow on other surfaces, such as trees or rocks, rather than needing soil.

3. Colourful… sort of.

The flowers have a great diversity of colours within the range of purple to white, including pink and blue. No yellow, orange or red in the flowers, though the leaves can end toward red. They blooms can be variegated, some with picotee, splotching or speckles.

4. Flower shape.

The petals range from single, five-petaled blooms to semi-double (between five and 10) and fully doubled (10 or more). Theu can be flat or ruffled. And the shape of the flowers starts at the standard pansy (with the top two petals being slightly smaller) and ranges through star and bell shapes to “wasp”, with twisted petals.

5. Picky

If you’ve had trouble growing them, it could be because of temperature. They like it between 18 and 27 Celsius and can wither if exposed to cold drafts or extreme heat. They also like humidity, so you may need to have a humidifier in their immediate area to keep these “shrinking violets” from shrinking. Top of Form. Why so hairy? The hairs on African violets are also known as trichomes. They help the plant by taking in water and nutrients from the surrounding environment. They also help to preserve moisture in the plant by reducing transpiration (which is the plant giving up moisture to the air).

6. Pest

These beauties are pest resistant. Aphids and scales can’t be bothered with the trichomes. You do need to watch out for root rot, though. While they like it humid, they don’t like to stand in water.

7. Care requirements

African violets prefer well-draining, loose potting soil, and they are usually grown in small pots. They thrive in indirect light and need consistent moisture. Don’t put them in sunlight and don’t leave them to dry out completely.

8. Why so many?

There are over 16,000 cultivars of African violets. Its popularity for being hybridized is probably due to amenability to breeding. You can control the pollination indoors and take advantage of natural diversity within the genus. They are also a plant that enjoys a huge fan base, so much so that there is great commercial demand, especially for new cultivars.

9. Positive plant.

In parts of Africa, the African violet is a symbol of love and admiration and they are often given as gifts to express positive feelings and best wishes. In Feng Shui, they are sometimes recommended for vibrant colours and association with growth and prosperity.

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10. Plant of the year for 2024.

 The African violet has been chosen as the Houseplant of the Year for 2024 by the National Garden Bureau in the US.

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