Streptocarpus sect. Saintpaulia
African violets are native to Tanzania and Kenya, where they grow in the shade of the Usambara and Uluguru mountains. They were first discovered in the late 19th century by Baron Walter von Saint Paul-Illaire, a German colonial official who was stationed in East Africa. He sent specimens of the plant back to Europe, where they quickly became popular as a houseplant.
Streptocarpus sect. Saintpaulia, commonly known as African violets, are a popular and beautiful houseplant. With their delicate, velvety leaves and stunning purple, pink, and white flowers, they are a favorite among gardeners and indoor plant enthusiasts. In this guide, we will explore the origin, habitat, popular cultivars, and care requirements for these lovely plants.
Habit: Low growing, semi-succulent evergreen perennial plants that produce a rosette of ovate to round or elliptic hairy mid to dark green leaves. Bunches of flowers are borne from the side of the leaf rosette to sit slightly above the leaves in shades of purple, pink, red, whitish and bicolour forms.
Temperature: Plants grow best between 20 to 25ᐤ C but are tolerant of temperatures down to 10ᐤ C. Avoid placing plants in windy or drafty locations where colder air can lead to less attractive plants
Light Exposure: Plants do best in bright, indirect light to thrive and grow well. Direct sun will burn the leaves and kill the plants. Be sure to turn the plants once a week so that plants stay even and do not become lopsided.
Watering: African violets are sensitive to overwatering, so it's important to let the soil dry out slightly between waterings. It is usually better to also water plants from below in a saucer of water and let the plant soak it up through the drainage holes to avoid wetting the plant’s leaves or crown which can lead to disease or rot issues. Be sure to empty any excess water from the saucer after watering.
Fertilising: Plants need to be fertilised with a well balanced fertiliser at half strength augmented with two tablespoons of epsom salts per four litres of water only once per month. Plants can be damaged by over fertilizing so one must be careful not to feed plants too much or too often as prescribed.
Pruning/Repotting: Remove any dead or damaged leaves and dried spent flower stalks as necessary. Mature African Violets can be repotted once or twice a year depending on its growth as a means of refreshing the soil. Plants should be removed from its existing pot and the soil medium around the soil ball loosened and gently shaken free; but do not try to remove all the soil from the root ball. Partially refill the existing pot with new soil medium and place the plant and its existing root ball into the pot; then gently fill in any more soil medium as required trying to avoid getting the leaves dirty. Once repotted, tap the pot down gently a few times to settle the soil medium and then water from below.
Pests/Diseases: Mealybugs, aphids, cyclamen mite, thrips, whitefly and scale are all pests that attack African Violets. While a number of fungal pathogens and bacterial pathogens cause leaf spot and blight issues,powdery mildew, root rot and crown rot of the plants.