Apartment plants

African violet - Saintpaulia


Saintpaulia, also called African violet, is a plant that is particularly appreciated for its vigorous growth and for its abundant and almost continuous flowering. Its popular name unites it to violets, probably due to the color of the corollas or the natural environment in which both grow, the undergrowth. However, it must be pointed out that these two herbaceous plants have absolutely nothing in common, neither from the botanical point of view nor for what concerns the cultivation requirements. Saintpaulia, in fact, constantly requires high temperatures and humidity, as found naturally in tropical and equatorial forests. It grows very well in the inhabited rooms of our houses, both in summer and in winter. It can be found on the market very easily and, thanks to the work of the breeders, it is available in different colors and sizes, really suited to all tastes and locations.
Pleasant even cultivated alone, in wider than deep pots, but they give the best of them in groups: we can combine different colors or make compositions with other plants (bulbous or leafy)

African violet

The African violets they are small evergreen perennials, originating in the tropical mountainous areas of Tanzania and Kenya; the botanical name is Saintpaulia, and the most widespread species (its hybrids) is saintpaulia ionantha. The plants of African violet they are small, they form compact rosettes, made up of fleshy leaves, carried by long petioles; the petioles and the lower part of the leaves are pink in color, while the leaves are dark green, covered with a very fine pale hair. Throughout the year, between the leaves in the center of the rosette, stand thin fleshy stems, which carry some five-petaled flowers, of purple color, with the typical yellow anthers in the center.
These plants have been grown in Europe since the end of the 1800s, since then numerous hybrids have obviously been produced, with pink, white, blue, variegated and striated flowers. There are about twenty species of Saintpaulia, which some authors consider subspecies of Saintpaulia ionantha; on the market they are difficult to find and in the nursery we usually find only hybrids with flowers with particular colors.

Grow saintpaulia

The African violets they are widespread indoor plants, from several decades, thanks to the fact that their flowering is continuous for many months a year, and they take up little space: an adult plant of African violet can easily remain in a 20 cm diameter jar, approximately . In the wild they live in hilly areas, in the undergrowth, characterized by a high environmental humidity. The secret to keeping an African violet always healthy and full of flowers is precisely in the watering; these plants have fleshy leaves, which can withstand brief periods of drought, but if we wait too long to water the leaves and they quickly collapse. It is therefore important to water regularly, trying to keep the soil always moist, but not saturated with water. So we will water very often, but with small amounts of water, which will wet the soil and not the foliage; this is because the fleshy leaves, covered with down, tend to dry very slowly and even a few drops of water on their surface can cause the development of fungal diseases. Remember to supply, every 15 days, a little fertilizer for flowering plants, mixed with the water used for watering. The soil will be rich and soft, consisting of universal soil mixed with a little sphagnum peat or leaf mold, so that it is able to slightly retain the humidity of the watering. Saintpaulias also like good environmental humidity, which is quite difficult to maintain, as it is not advisable to vaporize the leaves; it is therefore very useful to place the jars inside slightly larger pot holders, where gravel or expanded clay can be kept, always well wet, so that a good quantity of humidity evaporates. These plants do not like direct sunlight, which in addition to quickly drying the soil, also tends to cause showy burns on the leaves. Saintpaulias don't like being repotted very much, so this operation is done every two or three years, in autumn, and generally a re-invaded plant takes a few months before starting to bloom again.

Saintpaulia ionantha

It is the most widespread species, with leaves covered by a thin hair and dark in color on the upper side, with the lower purple page. There are dozens of hybrids of this African violet, widely cultivated as house plants in Europe and in North America.


Family, genus, species

Gesneraceae, Saintpaulia ionantha
Type of plant Perennial herbaceous
Foliage persistent
Flower color Blue, purple, pink, white, yellow, red
dimensions From 5 to 30 cm
Exposure Very bright, no direct sun in summer
Ideal temperature 18-25 ° C
Minimum temperature 15 ° C
Water needs Soil for flowering plants
Environmental humidity high
Avversitа Aleurodidi, aphids, powdery mildew, gray mold
Propagation Leaf cutting, sowing
Use Houseplant or warm greenhouse

Climate for Saintpaulia

Like all plants coming from tropical and equatorial areas, Saintpaulia wants temperatures that are always high and possibly constant. Growth and flowering are stimulated when the thermometer is between 18 and 25 ° C. They therefore live very well in inhabited rooms both in summer and in winter. During the cold season they can also be moved and induced to rest: the ideal climate must, in this case, be around 15-16 ° C and never fall below 13 ° C under serious damage. The plant would begin to lose its leaves and later the root system would also be affected. These problems can, however, also be caused by cold currents and sudden temperature changes: we therefore protect the plants when we open the windows and change their position always very gradually.
During the summer, if we have a garden, a veranda or a terrace, we can also move the pots outside, taking care to respect the conditions of light and humidity and paying attention to some pests (snails are fond of their leaves!).

Saintpaulia velutina

The leaves, abundantly covered by a thick and thin hair, give the name to this species of African violet, very similar to the type species; the leaves have a serrated edge and are dark or bright green; the flowers are deep blue and bloom throughout the year.

African violet display

The African violet wants an extremely bright placement: the rooms with windows facing South or West are ideal. This condition is essential for having abundant blooms throughout the year.
From October to April they can also be placed in full light (especially in the North), from May onwards it is better to move them to a more sheltered area or to screen the windows with light colored curtains. The direct light too intense could in fact cause leaf burns as well as drying out the environment.
If in the summer we decide to move the vases to the outside we choose a sheltered location, perhaps under a pergola or in the light filtered by a broadleaf tree.

Saintpaulia rupicola

It has very large leaves, carried by small elongated, it also develops as a hanging plant and has purple or lilac flowers, of small dimensions. The hair on the foliage is thin and delicate, and not very visible.

Saintpaulia pendula

Very similar to Saintpaulia ionantha, this African violet tends to produce numerous side shoots, which give the plant a hanging appearance, producing numerous small plains connected to the mother plant; the leaves are minute, with a velvety appearance and a bright green color.

Saintpaulia grandifolia

As the name of the species says, this Saintpaulia has very large leaves, compared to the others, which give rise to a very large and compact rosette. The color is bright green and the flowers are lilac or blue.

Propagate the Saintpaulias

The small flowers of saintpaulias often produce small capsules containing many tiny seeds; these seeds can be sown on the surface of a good rich and fresh soil; the young plants develop within a few weeks, and are tiny, so much so that it is often necessary to thin them using tweezers. The young plants grow rapidly, but starting from a few centimeters, it is clear that it takes several weeks before obtaining a large rosette of leaves. More often African violets propagate by leaf cuttings; the leaves of the central area of ​​the rosette (not the outer ones, now old and not the inner ones, still young), are removed from the base of the rosette, and the petiole is immersed in the rooting hormone, and then in a soil made up of sand peat in equal parts, which must be kept moist, in a warm and humid place; to avoid fungal diseases, try to keep the leaf raised from the ground, to better allow the air to circulate. The new plant will develop at the base of the petiole. Often it happens that saintpaulia plants accumulate, or that they produce secondary rosettes; these rosettes can be detached from the mother plant and repotted individually.
The simplest method of propagating saintpaulia is leaf cutting. Proceed in spring taking some healthy and good-sized leaves. Cut the petiole, about 2-3 cm from the leaf attachment, with a very sharp tool to avoid fraying. We will set it in a wet mixture of sand and peat, after having dusted it with a product for rooting. We cover with transparent plastic. Every day we ventilate and steam lightly. After about 2 months we will see at the base of the small plants: we wait for them to reach 5 cm in height and transfer them to the final jars, after having removed them from the mother leaf.



All the year
Flowering Spring summer (but possible all year round)
Composting Spring-autumn, monthly
repotting Always, but better in spring-summer
Leaf cutting spring
Sowing spring

Pests and diseases

Typically these plants suffer because of drought, which quickly causes the decay of all the leaves, and which can also be fatal for the whole plant, if we do not intervene with adequate watering. A well-watered saintpaulia, on the other hand, can suffer from diseases linked to high humidity or poor ventilation, such as mold and various types of fungus. Surely the first cure is found in prevention: let's avoid leaving the soil always soaked with water, and water it with small amounts of water, without drowning the pot. Diseased plants can be treated with a fungicide, but it is often preferred to replace them with new ones, given the widespread nature of these plants. If the leaves are often wet with water, they can easily present rot of circular shape, or be more easily attacked by animal parasites; as a rule, the quickest way to eliminate these problems is to remove the affected leaves, breaking the petiole at the base of the rosette with the nails and burning the removed leaves. In addition to removing diseased or damaged leaves from the plants, this also promotes the production of new healthy leaves.
The repottings are necessary only occasionally, when the roots have really occupied all the space available to them. The ideal period for this processing is from spring to mid-summer. We choose a larger container than high (ideal are the bowls), slightly larger than the previous one.

Features flowers and leaves

The African violet is a herbaceous plant with very variable dimensions: the largest can exceed 30 cm in height, the smaller ones (called "lilliput") barely reach 5 cm. They are characterized by superficial roots that extend more in width than in depth. The leaves, acauli, (ie attached directly to the roots) are persistent and arranged in a rosette. They are round or heart-shaped, fleshy and very soft to the touch. Their color is very variable: from light green to dark, but variegated and variegated cultivars are also available. The back has interesting reddish shades.
The stems appear at the leaf axil and bear bunches of flowers in all shades of blue, pink and white. Rarer colors are yellow and red. Corollas can be simple, double, curled or fringed. Another extremely decorative element is the stamens, of a beautiful bright yellow, always clearly visible in the center of the flowers.

The purchase of the plant

The African violet can be purchased and is commercially available throughout the year. However, we pay particular attention to transport during the winter: even brief, but abrupt, drops in temperature can seriously damage our plant. We therefore provide thermal protection throughout the journey.

Environmental humidity

An indispensable condition for this type of cultivation is the maintenance of a high rate of humidity throughout the year. However, remember that this becomes really crucial when temperatures exceed 20 ° C. During the winter it is essential to use ceramic humidifiers to be applied to radiators. The appropriate electrical appliances are also very useful.
From spring to autumn it is advisable to use saucers filled with slightly damp expanded clay (though taking care that the roots never come into contact with water, a frequent cause of rot). Outdoors it may be useful to wet the flooring several times a day or place the pots on a lawn or in the middle of other vegetation.


The irrigations must be light, but frequent, sufficient only to make the ground bread fresh. Indicatively we act when the surface is completely dry. The ideal irrigation method is that for immersion: we fill the saucer and leave the plant for about 15 minutes. Let's remember then to let it drain very well (we always monitor that the drainage is optimal).
In any case, we try to use rain or demineralised water for all needs (limestone can seriously damage the root system, but also close the leaves' stomas). In winter, always remember to check that it is at least at room temperature so as not to cause thermal shock.

African violet soil and vase

The ideal vase for the African violet must be wide and shallow. We therefore prefer a rather small container, just a little larger than the volume of the roots: the Saintpaulias, in fact, prefer to have roots at the narrow and in these conditions they are much more floriferous. In general the larger varieties are to be placed in pots of about 12 cm, the medium ones in pots of 8 and the smaller ones even only in containers of 5 cm.
The ideal substrate is the one used for flowering plants or geraniums, quite rich in organic substance and macroelements. We then choose a good ready mix.
On the bottom of the bowl we create a drainage layer of about 2 cm based on expanded clay.

African violet fertilization

Fertilizations are indispensable for obtaining abundant growth and constant flowering in all seasons.
In general it is recommended to use a liquid product for orchids or for flowering plants, where potassium is the predominant macro-element. Let's administer it once a month, but at half the dose recommended by the manufacturer.
If during the winter the plant lives in a poorly heated environment we will be able to suspend fertilization altogether, then resume around March-April, depending on our geographical location.


Keeping African violets clean is very important: given the moist environment that favors the development of cryptogamic diseases is always around the corner. We promptly remove the withered flowers and older leaves (which are always found at the base of the rosette). It is also indispensable, from time to time, to clean the foliage from the dust, using a damp cloth.

African violet - Saintpaulia: African violet repotting

The repottings are necessary only occasionally, when the roots have really occupied all the space available to them. The ideal period for this processing is from spring to mid-summer. We choose a larger container than high (ideal are the bowls), slightly larger than the previous one.
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