Updated 2/10/05.
Lesson Two

Getting to Know
Your African Violet

     My favorite part of day begins when I take a shower.  It is my chance to ponder, think, and also get to know my inner self a little better.  After showering, I get a chance to take a look in the mirror while I do my hair or brush my teeth.  Everyday we get to know ourselves a little bit better.  To be a good hybridizer you need to get to know your Saintpaulia.  There is so much you can learn from just one plant it is amazing and endless.  This lesson will teach you about your African violets.
    As with all plants, there are many characteristics that don’t change, such as leaves, petioles, flowers, and roots.  But within each of these categories there are several variants.  Flowers, for example, can be big, small, purple, white, and green; the possibilities go on and on.

    Your first task will be getting to know your violets by the characteristics which they exhibit.  This will help you decide which plants are truly worthy to cross.  This will help you achieve your goals.  These are some of the characteristics that will be important, and should not be over looked when choosing a parent plant for a cross.  Some of these traits will be discussed as “genes” in another lesson; for now, simply relax and get to know the traits of your plants, or maybe start to gather an idea of what plant you would like to make.
    Let’s start with the very basics:  A nice looking, shaped, african violet.  African violets look much better when they are round and evenly spaced.  Some plants need just a little help and others a lot in order to look like it has conformity.  These violets, that are shaped well naturally, carry genes that help them do this.  Another way to explain these african violets would be “well behaved”.  Choosing a plant that naturally has great shape will significantly enhance the number of offspring that have good shape too.
    Some characteristics that you will want to look for in the shape of your violet might be leaves that are held just above the pot and not lying on the ground.  You might want a plant with leaves poking straight up, if that’s what you are going for.  Overall shape of your plant will be important to create a great new variety.  It is one of the most important characteristics that should not be overlooked.  Something that falls into this category as well is suckering.  You don’t particularly want a plant that suckers on a non-trailer, whereas on a Chimera this would make its production easier if it suckers occasionally.
    Different varieties of African violets have different temperaments with fertilizers.  Some seem to never get enough, while others don’t like much at all.  It will be crucial to choose a plant that performs well for you.  This plant should do well under different lighting conditions, and should be healthy. 
    Plants that have a hard time staying healthy are not a good choice for a cross.  The more robust the plant, the better it will be.  Look at your plants and determine which ones really perform well for you.  Getting a plant that is a high performer in your conditions is important.  Some african violets were bred under programs of high light and high temperatures.  Once that plant is in your home, and those conditions are not met, it might not be such a high performer.  It will be critical as you watch your plants develop that you choose a plant that meets your performance criterias, and not necessarily your neighbor’s.  An African violet with a good temperament will make a better cross then one that has a hard time staying green or in bloom.
    The “ease of propagation” is the next very important characteristic.  A good hybrid will have the ability to propagate rapidly from leaf cuttings.  Seed production should not be overlooked either.  Both asexual (leaf cuttings and suckers) and sexual (seed production and viability) are needed to make a good plant to chose as a parent.  A good plant having these characteristics will make your experience as a hybridizer more enjoyable.  There is more to producing a new variety than just growing one from seed, and that includes multiplying the new plant.  Those two reasons, are reason enough, that your seed parents should exhibit both of these qualities.  In many cases, the seed production is not known, this can be overlooked.  You will find out if it is seed worthy once you try to make the cross.  In these cases, judge the plant by its ease of leaf propagation.
    These first three characteristics may seem like very basic ones, but they build a firm foundation for latter characteristics.  The rest of the characteristics that will be discussed fall into a slightly different category then the former.  These are characteristics of the plant that will fall under “preference” rather then a “need to have” category.  Even the ability to flower may be put under this category if the foliage is good enough to make up for its lack of flowers, however in this situation the leaves should be highly attractive.  So as you continue to discover these characteristics think of the ones that you like.  Try not to put aside the former two, as they are building blocks.
    Plant size is an important one.  If you like to have lots of violets perhaps you like miniatures better the standards, or maybe you like the large better the standards.  It can go either way.  For some the plant size will not be as important as other characteristics.  Plant size can also determine marketability.  If you want to sell your african violets you must have the size that is in demand.  Currently at the time I am writing this, 2005, it seems that miniatures are what’s HOT!  The size also goes hand in hand with the type of plant care that is needed.  Minis seem to like more water and smaller pots then a standard for example.  You must determine which size is best for you, or you can decide that size isn’t an issue.  My recommendation is that you choose a plant size that is like the majority of your violets.  As you can determine now, size really is another characteristic that in many cases should not be overlooked but is not as critical as other characteristics.
    Do you find it interesting that we haven’t even discussed flowers yet?  Well don’t be itching to talk about them yet.  We still have a few more characteristics to discuss.  Before we get to talking about flowers lets talk about habits of the plants first.  Trailing and non-trailing habits are both traits that are desirable.  Sometimes a trailing variety can enhance the look of the plant with other characteristics, such as small flowers.  Even though the flowers may be small, on a trailer it still looks great.  Trailing african violets also need a good ability to “trail”.  Some don’t carry the characteristics as a good trailer.  This must be noticed about your plant, if it does not have a good “trailing habit”, its offspring might be the same way.  Whether you want to cross for a trailer should depend on your desire to obtain a new trailing variety that is well branched when mature.  It is sometimes overlooked, and in my opinion there are very few “good trailer” varieties available.  This may increase their marketability if you are hybridizing for what we don’t have.
    Foliage type of your african violet:  There are several foliage types that your african violets may have.  For example, boy, girl, bustle, holly, serrated, plain, round, ovate, spooned, quilted, longifolia, and the list can go on.  Here is a category that is strictly up to the hybridizer as to which foliage they like best.  Foliage also plays an important part in the overall look of a plant.  Some foliage is plain and simple, while others are busy and ruffled.
    Foliage color:  The color of your leaves can be anywhere from light green, to almost blackish-green.  There are variegations in white, cream, tan, and pinks and many other possibilities.  (In a later lesson, I will discuss the inheritance of variegation which is not related to Mendelian Genetics.)  Foliage color should be determined by the flower.  Some foliar colors will perform better for you.  Different foliar colors seem to have different light requirements, so choose one that is good for you.  You might not have considered foliar color as a characteristic to look for; this is one characteristic, which at least for now, with all the varieties available, needs to be taken into consideration.  But a great violet has foliage that compliments the flower.
    Flowers, in my opinion, are everybody’s favorite subject.  There are several characteristics of the flower that can be discussed here.  Before I discuss flower shape and color we must not overlook this question.  “How many flowers are there per peduncle?”  The flower peduncle is the “flower stem”.  Having an african violet that has a high flower count per peduncle truly makes an african violet excel.  Flowers per peduncle are an inherited trait, so it too must be taken into account.  While talking about peduncles, I will add one more important characteristic.  A peduncle that holds the flower above the plant is far better then a weak peduncle which droops down onto the leaves. 
    Flower performance:  Some african violet flowers are thin and papery, others are thick.  Thick flowers last longer, as a general rule.  Either of the two make good choices, except you wouldn’t want a thin pale flower, as they will fade quickly and turn brown.  Thin darker flowers are better then pale.  Both make good flowers, but with the hybrids we have today, it seems that thicker is better.  And perhaps the most important performing indicator is its ability to bloom non-stop.  Choosing a good bloomer will have higher chances that its offspring will be good bloomers.  In my opinion, and it is shared among others, an ugly colored flower is pretty when accompanied by 20 others at the same time, always in bloom.  These are characteristics of a high performing violet flower.
    Flower type:  I struggle a lot writing about the different types of flowers.  I could write an entire lesson on just being able to determine which flower is what type.  Here is a brief list: single, star, double, semi-double, fringed, pinwheel (this trait does not fall under Mendelian Genetics and will be discussed as a separate lesson on chimeric plants), fantasy, wasp, and many more.  It is possible to have combinations of them, and I foresee many more flower types emerging in the future.  You will need to know which type of flower your plants have.  This will be important later on. 
    When most people discuss hybridizing, the most common thought of trait is the inflorescence color.  So many different colors and combinations of colors are already available.  What you as a hybridizer should do, are either improve upon what already exists, or come up with something totally new.  This can be tough with all the hybrids that already exist.  Because there is a lot of variability, this makes it all the more enjoyable.  In recent years, we have had introductions of yellows, and combinations of yellows.  Work with these colors can be done as well as with others.  You might look for deeper tones, maybe lighter.  But you should definitely choose a plant as a parent that already have the colors you are looking for.  Sometimes the flower has a thumbprint pattern, others a pansy, learn to determine which flower color combinations you want, and which ones you have.

    These are the characteristics that make up a plant.  Get to know your plants by their characteristics.  Your assignment is to pick one of your favorite african violets; use books, internet, and other resources to correctly identify the following characteristics of your plant.  Provide the name of the plant when you report it to the Class Discussion, if it is a NOID, its name is NOID.  These are the characteristics that I would like you to find out:
  • How many flowers per peduncle does your african violet have?
  • Does your african violet sucker (occasionally/all the time)?
  • What is the foliage type and color?
  • What is your flower type?
  • In your opinion what is one “need to have” characteristic that your parent plant must have?

     If you have any questions please ask them on the Class Discussion.  Many will be willing to help you determine which of these traits you have.  If I have left out any important characteristic, please let me know.  Having an intimate knowledge of these characteristics will help you tremendously in future lessons, and also with your hybridizing success.

Class is now open for discussion!

~~ Ryan Ferre
asstrix  Introduction
asstrix  Lesson One
asstrix  Lesson Two
asstrix Class Discussion
Lesson Two Assignment:
Your assignment is to pick one of your favorite african violets;
use books, internet, and other resources to correctly identify the following characteristics of your plant:

  • Provide the name of the plant when you report it to the Class Discussion, if it is a NOID, its name is NOID.
  • How many flowers per peduncle does your african violet have?
  • Does your african violet sucker (occasionally/all the time)?
  • What is the foliage type and color?
  • What is your flower type?
  • In your opinion what is one “need to have” characteristic that your parent plant must have?
    Think about it, and
    post your answers to
    the Class Discussion!

    Blossom Chart

    Leaf Types
    copyright 2005 by Ryan  Ferre