Plant Rescue: African Violets

My sister called me last week to tell me that our neighbor who moved away after 46 years next door came by and gave her one of their African Violets.

I immediately offered to come and get it.

Then a few days later, she called me at work to ask me if African Violets are poisonous. I was kind of busy so I said, "I don't know, google it." So she did, and I got an email from her later telling me that they are not poisonous but I'd better come and get the plant because their cats had discovered it and were starting to eat the leaves.

Then yesterday she left a comment here on my blog "it's been less than a week and the African Violet is gasping -- drooping and gasping - you better come rescue it."

So this evening, while she wasn't home, I rescued it.

When I saw it, sitting in a saucer of water, I immediately diagnosed it as "overwatered" and emptied the saucer. Now after just an hour or two spent drying out at my house, it already looks a little better.

I've had a few African Violets in my time, but not more than a two or three at a time. I would definitely not consider myself a collector of them or one who would join a plant society dedicated to them, because, really, aren't these your grandmother's house plants?

At least I remember my grandmother always having some on her dining room window sill. And I remember seeing the little old ladies selling them at the annual flower and patio show, all dressed up in their African Violet print aprons.

I think I have some fear that I might be considered 'old' if I have too many African Violets. In fact, I'm making up a new rule right now that a gardener should only have one African Violet for every decade they've been alive, or they are aging before their time.

Counting this new African Violet, I now have three. So I'm under my quota, I'm not old, at least if you measure age by the number of African Violets you have.

I have a used book I bought several years ago, "1,001 African Violet Questions Answered by Twelve Experts" edited by Helen Van Pelt Wilson. I have no idea why I bought it, other than it looked interesting and was cheap. I've been looking through it tonight, somewhat amazed that they could come up with that many questions about one kind of plant.

I did confirm my initial diagnosis that the plant was overwatered.

Question 245. What is the appearance of a plant that is overwatered? The plant is limp and the leaves flop down over the sides of the pot. (That's exactly how this one looked.)

Question 243. How long should an African Violet plant stand in water? Not over four hours for large plants; for plants in 2-inch pots, an hour is quite long enough. Roots will begin to deteriorate if kept soaked too long because air cannot penetrate the soggy soil mass. (I'm guessing this one sat in water for a day or longer.)

And so on for 1,001 questions, all about African Violets.

Do you have any African Violets or questions about them? I'd be happy to look up answers for anyone, just let me know. In fact, I challenge someone to come up with an African Violet related question that isn't in this book.


  1. Here's one, Carol - "How can they afford to sell such a fussy plant at 4 for $5.00 at the grocery store?"

    This happens at my store about twice a year and I'm always taken in by their pretty jewel-colored blossoms and dark velvety leaves. I'll pick a pink one, a white one, a purple one, and red one and go home happy as a clam. That's until they've been in my house for a couple of months and I finally rebel against "water them from the bottom of the container" and "don't get their leaves wet". Phooey on that and out they go. But then I fall for it all over again the next time they're on sale!

    African violets can't make you seem "old" if you don't keep them!

  2. I really love African violets. They seem to be the easiest and most reliable indoor plant I've owned.

    I grew some from seed last year which was fun. They were supposed to be miniture but they are regular sizes. They prosper in the shady area on my window sill outside during the summer.

    Unfortunately, sometimes I forget to water them and they get looking really strange, but soon perk up with a little drink. And add some violet food to the water and they'll be blooming in a week!

    I do admit, I still think of little old ladies (which I'm quickly becoming!) when I look at my violets.

  3. May I provide just a teensy weensy history on the one week we owned the plant, Carol - in my defense? When the neighbors brought the plant over, it sat on the kitchen counter for a day or two until the cat discovered it. The kids called me at work and I told them to relocate the plant where the cats wouldn't be so tempted. That is when it found it's temporary home on the bookcase in the living room behind some pictures. Poor thing :-( I forgot all about it until a few days later when I noticed it's little leaf sticking out from behind the picture and rescued it.

    When we received it, it was big and beatiful and almost looked as if it was smiling. But, now, it was drooping and looked very, very sad. I thought, poor thing, it wants some sun and a drink of water. So I took it back to the kitchen, gave it a drink from the bottom up and set it in the sun and promptly forgot about it- again. In fact, till I read this post, I didn't even realize Carol had stolen it--opps, I mean rescued it.

    MY diagnosis (besides maybe I did leave the water sitting there for a day or so), is that the plant was in mourning. It had a very happy home, was loved and well cared for. It knew the sounds of the voices around it, life was quiet. It was happy. Then, life turned topsy, turvey. It moved next door to noise, chaos, high shrill voices of children, cats nibling its little leaves (ouch!). Can't you just hear its little voice, crying out - "Where is my little family? Where are their voices?" See, I think it just wasn't happy. Now, it looks better, because it knows its home is once again quiet, with soft voices. It knows that it will be well taken care by someone who knows what they are doing. It's happy - what more can I say?

  4. oo Carol, I might have one for you -- I have an African vi that is supposed to have a white bloom with a dark watercolor wash of purple-blue. When it was new its blooms were reliably true to form. Now (years later and a baby from cutting does the same thing) it begins it's bloom cycle blooming clear white and towards the end, the last few buds open with the purpley wash. I don't really mind although I think they're prettier with more color and just have been wondering - why?! Thanks for your offer of a look-up!

  5. Hi Carol, I love African violets all of them. The mini's are particularly alluring. Question: from your picture your plant seems to have multiple crowns. Is that correct? If so, you may go over your quota very quickly by separating the crowns! ;-}
    I actually think there may be something to the "mourning" comment. I have been give plants by doting growers only to have the thing wilt immediately!


  6. What a fun post (and great comments too!). I don't have any African violets at the moment but I do have a Streptocarpus, which is related; and I KNOW that if I go into a department store with a fresh batch of African violets (or Saintpaulias), I'll fall for the temptaion, just like Lost Roses, and bring some home again...only to have them succumb to neglect on my part.
    Our cats don't eat the leaves, but they do snuggle up to them, so that we have plush-leaved violets even more than usual. I need to make a spot where the furball friends can't get at them.

  7. I have only one African violet - a nice thriving picotee edged pink and white double-flowered one. I think the key to having a hip, cool African violet is not keeping it in one of those purpose-made old lady African violet pots. They look like something calling out for a crocheted tea cozy. Mine is in a terracotta pot (which dries quickly, and the plant likes that) nestled inside a square copper container.

  8. Carol, whenever the african violet your grandmother had dropped a leaf she would immediately put it in water so it would root. That was how she got a whole long window seat full of african violets. She couldn't bear to see a leaf drop & curl up & die. That's obsession.

  9. I've got three violets (plus one I'm babysitting for a while) so I'm safely under mom always had absolutely beautiful african dad built a wonderful wall unit surrounding a window where her violets could live in luxury. But glancing at mine right now I see I need to give them a little more love...I have to admit they look a little worse for the wear due to the benign neglect my houseplants get during the summer!

  10. Lost Roses... So you advocate ditching African Violets after awhile to keep from aging? By the way, I found an answer to your question... see the next post.

    Alyssa... I am impressed that you grew some African Violets from seed! Very impressed!

    Sister with the Homestead... The poor African Violet had it rougher than I thought! You put it on a book case away from the light?? It is in a better place now.

    Kris at Blithwold... See next post for an answer to your question.

    Kjohnson... This African Violet is big but has only one crown, so I think I'm safe on my quota. I hope I can bring this plant out of "mourning" in my sunroom where there are other plants around it.

    Jodi... Thanks for the nice compliment. I suspect most of us have ended up with an African Violet or two that we didn't plan to buy.

    Gardenista... I think you are right, no "old lady" flower pots for me!

    Eleanor... Now I feel guilty/bad/neglectful because when I transported this in my car a leave dropped off and it is still laying on the floor of the car. I need to go get it and put it in water!

    Leslie... Truth be told, I think most of our houseplants are a bit neglected in the summertime.

    Thanks all for the comments!
    Carol at May Dreams Gardens

  11. I am not telling how many African Violets I have, nor am I apologizing for having them. It just happened, honest!

    I am not old, and where the heck did that stereotype originate anyway?? My mom told me my house looked like an old lady's house due to all the houseplants. Well. I like plants. What else can I say?


  12. Heh, if large quantities of houseplants including violets make a person "old", then I'm it! At least my immaturity is intact, so I feel young! ;-)

  13. Linda here
    I am also a great lover of the African Violet. I grow new plants from leaves, that I just put back into the soil. I just have one huge problem. Every winter I lost couple of my plant. It seems to become rotten against the stem wilt away and then the whole plant die. I am clueless as to why it does that because the other flowers in the pot is still flowering right through the year. If you have any suggestions as to why it happen please let me know i do my watering very strict so as not to over water or to let it get to dry. I have about seven different colours and enjoy them very much. I am an old lady but enjoy growing them very much. I think working with them makes one feel young (even if it is only at heart) To the lady that had the white and purple one, that one needs sun to turn the purple colour on. I have one exactly like that and it flowers normal if it have a little sun it does not like to much heat but do need the light.
    Nice to read all the comments

  14. Carol, this is the first time I've read this, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I now have six of the little darlings in china pots. They don't have holes. I hope with a teeny bit of water, they will be happy.~~Dee


Post a Comment

Comments are to a blog what flowers are to a garden. Sow your thoughts here and may all your comments multiply as blooms in your garden.

Though there is never enough time to respond to each comment individually these days, please know that I do read and love each one and will try to reciprocate on your blog.

By the way, if you are leaving a comment just so you can include a link to your business site, the garden fairies will find it and compost it!