How To Cross and Start African Violets from Seed

Raising saintpaulia from seed is a fascinating pursuit, and, like thousands of other house-plant gardeners, you will get a great kick from it. But it is like matrimony: you should not go into it without prior consideration.

You may find yourself responsible for caring for several hundred African violet seedlings, which may mean a big housing problem unless you are sufficiently hard-boiled to discard the majority without tearing your heartstrings ruthlessly.

Growing African Violets from SeedsPin

Seeds are not difficult to obtain. You can buy them from a dealer, or some of your plants may produce them spontaneously without effort.

My first lot of seedlings came from sowing the seeds from a capsule that just happened to develop on a plant of Commodore. African violets were transplanted into a self-watering window box 36″ x 7″ x 7″ inches.

There was not much difference between any of them and the parents. They were put outdoors for the summer and fell victim to an early frost.

This did not cause me any great anguish, for none of them were better than Commodore, and now I was not faced with finding room for them.

Cross Breeding

You will probably find it more interesting to play the part of a marriage broker and start from scratch.

To give you an inkling of how to do this, here is the case history of a cross I made between Saintpaullia Grotei, a trailing species, and Bicolor, a two-toned orchid-colored variety.

Flowers of African violet ready for hybridizingPin

The objective was a trailing form with different colors, more free-flowering than S. Groici.

The cross was made in late March by applying pollen from BICOLOR to the stigma of S. Grotei.

Pollenating African violet flowersPin

The pods ripened (indicated by the stalks turning brown) on August 7, and after keeping them dry for about three weeks, the dust-like seeds were sown in a 3-inch pot in a mixture of garden soil and sand, and peat moss sifted through a 1/4 -inch sieve.

The mixture was lightly pressed down in the pot, and a 1/2-inch layer of fine soil passed through a flour sifter was put on the surface.

Planting The Seed

The seeds were sown on this as evenly as possible. (If you are doubtful of your ability to sow small seeds evenly, you can first put them in an empty salt shaker mixed with a 1/2 teaspoon of very fine soil.)

No attempt was made to cover the seeds with soil; they were merely pressed into the soil with the smooth bottom of a drinking glass.

Seeds on African violet pods ripen and the stalks turn brownPin

Then the pot was covered with a plastic lid to prevent undue moisture loss. This was removed as soon as the seedlings appeared.

Water was added to the saucer below the pot when the soil looked dry.

The seeds germinated in seventeen days and shortly afterward were transplanted to a self-watering window box and spaced 2” inches apart.

Removing African violet seedPin

On February 16 of the following year, before the seedlings became crowded, alternate plants were taken up and potted separately in 3-inch pots. 

They started blooming in the summer. Of 50 plants, there were two with flowers showing some of the rosy colors of one of the parents, BICOLOR, but none looked much like either the mother or father.

Squeezing out African violet seedPin

Overall, they were a disappointing lot, characterized by leaves with very long petioles. A few had a trailing tendency with stems the size, length, and thickness of a good-sized ring finger.

Blooming seedlingPin

Three of the best-looking plants were put in a 6-inch bulb pan in a hanging container. These, while not especially good, flowered abundantly over a long period.

One plant with petioles 12” to 14” inches long was saved partly because its ugliness makes it interesting. The remainder of the plants were given away.

Related: Have More Fun Growing Blooming African Violets from Seed

Seeds Sown In Fall

Those in the window box were put outdoors for the summer, where their flowers proved to be a great attraction for honey bees.

As a result, perhaps, there was tremendous production of seed pods. The seeds from some of these were sown in the fall.

The seedlings exhibited segregated characteristics (typical of the second generation) with interesting variations in color and foliage.

Two of them were trailers, but since they had insignificant flowers and ordinary foliage, they were worthless.

Many had multiple crowns, a characteristic disliked by most fanciers. For display in hanging pots, I prefer a multiple-crown plant.

Some of the plants had seersucker-type foliage, characteristic of S. Grotei.

One had interesting leaves with ruffled edges and red undersides. One plant was rather pleasing and free flowering.

Two differed from any saintpaulia I have seen, with pale, smooth, fleshy, almost round leaves.

Many plants growing in 3-inch pots had as many as fifty flowers open at one time. Instead of the two to four flowers per stalk of S. Grotei, many had scapes carrying six to ten flowers.

Related: Steps on Propagating Africa Violets

So far, I don’t consider any of these plants worth naming, but it is still possible for some of these ugly ducklings to develop into beautiful swans.

Their character may change when they get out of the gawky adolescent stage.

A geneticist would, perhaps, tell me to backcross some of these individuals of the second generation, but then, there is that nightmare of a housing problem.