Growing African Violets: A Lesson In Hybridizing For Wine

Harvey G. Bush is a man who prefers redheads in his African violets, that is. But so far, he hasn’t found one that entirely pleases him.

When he began his hobby of growing African violets years ago, Harvey Bush, from Winchester, Kentucky, had two gift plants of standard pink and blue varieties. After reading an article on growing African violets from seed, he decided upon his hybridizing venture.

hybridizing the wine flowered African violetPin

He wanted to produce, from the seeds of his own plants, an African violet with wine-colored flowers like the one known to growers as Redhead which would also have scalloped leaves.

Since then, he has been working carefully with one thought in mind – to make each African violet generation blush more deeply than the last.

The results of cross-pollination are often quite unpredictable, for flower colors will not mix like paint! This is particularly true of modern African violets, which are often complex hybrids in themselves.

Mr. Bush found that progeny of a single cross will often show several characteristics that were not apparent in either parent plant.

Among his more than 500 well-groomed plants, he finds flower colors ranging from the more common blues through white, lavender, and deep pink. This gives ample proof that several generations are required to find the answer to any plant breeding problem.

The African Violet Hybridizing Process

Mr. Bush follows a well-thought-out plan in his quest for a redhead, carefully selecting those plants that he wishes to do further work. Mature, well-developed but not faded flowers are used for both parents.

He removes a flower from the plant chosen as the male parent and with a razor blade, opens or slits the anthers, thus releasing the yellow pollen grains containing the male element.

The anthers are then carefully rubbed over the stigma of a flower on another selected plant until it is covered with pollen. A sticky substance on the stigma holds the pollen grains until the flower is fertilized.

If the cross “takes”, and not all of them will, a tiny seed pod will begin to form about two weeks after pollination. Six to nine months are required for the seed pod to mature fully, the exact time depending upon such variables as the variety, season, soil, and location.

After the pod has developed fully, the seed can either be stored in a dry place or planted immediately. Mature seed pods will shrivel, dry, and turn brown on the plant. Stored seeds should be kept at a temperature of 60° to 65° degrees Fahrenheit.

The timeframe from sown seed to flowering African violet is about the same as that from a cutting to a mature plant. But how much more interesting to grow the seedlings!

Besides, a cutting produces one or at the most a few plants, whereas the seeds from a single pod yield many.

Propagating Seeds

Sowing the seeds of this popular East African plant requires special care as they are as fine as dust. A covered dish with a mixture of either sand or vermiculite and peat moss laid over a layer of charcoal is satisfactory for germinating the seeds, which are then sprinkled over the surface. Seedlings appear in about three weeks and should be given soft, even illumination.

They should be transplanted to pots filled with regular African violet soil when they are a half-inch or so high. The potting mix should retain moisture but is open and easily penetrated by the delicate root system.

The casual flower lover whose interest lies only in having a window full of flowers will probably not care to follow this somewhat precise procedure – divisions or established plants will be more satisfying.

But for the keen indoor gardener, developing this gracious little plant from seed offers tremendous possibilities as a worthwhile and intriguing hobby.

The Joy of Hybridizing African Violets

Indeed, so adaptable and variable is the African violet that more varieties than will ever again be counted have arisen from a single blue species. They are a far cry from the plants that Baron Walter von Saint Paul found growing in the wilds of Africa over 150 years ago while attending to his interests in vanilla and rubber tree plantations.

As a hobby, hybridizing African violets appeals to people of all ages.

The African Violet Society of America, which is instrumental in recording the names of new varieties as they appear, has grown since its organization in November 1946 to include a massive global membership.

You will want to read its bi-monthly publication and take part in its annual convention and flower shows. For further information about the society, visit its official website.

It is interesting to note how quickly the African violet became such a popular plant within our homes, offices, schoolroom and grandma’s kitchen. It undoubtedly has become an ace friendship maker among house plants, for enthusiasts who are total strangers quickly find kinship as they exchange views concerning those “bright little faces” of African violets.

And, for amateurs, some of whom began with a single leaf cutting of the original Blue Boy variety, growing this plant has also proved to be a rewarding sideline.