Classification Of African Violets

Types of plant

There are three main types of African violet: rosette, trailing, and variegated.

This type of plant has a short main stem with very short internodes; the leaf petioles or stalks grow in layered whorls from the centre growth point. Depending upon the nature of the plant size, the single crown rosette may be any diameter from 2in (5cm) to over 2ft (60cm). Leaf blade size determines the diameter across a single crown at maturity; however, as a general rule, a plant in perfect condition will have up to five layers of leaves. Usually from each leaf axil a flower peduncle or stalk will arise which may bear one to ten individual flowers, each one on a slender pedicel. The flowers open fully in succession until the peduncle has the appearance of a multi-headed inflorescence.
These African violets are likely to have long main stems with some distance between internodes. Leaf petioles are usually long in comparison to rosette types, and again grow out in layered whorls making a plant with more open growth. Trailers cannot be grown as single-crowned plants because side stems grow from some leaf axils forming branches, whilst flower peduncles grow from others. This branching of the main stem leads to the trailing appearance, as none of these branches is sturdy enough for upright growth.
Early trailing hybrids bred from S. grotei did, literally, trail from their containers. However, later hybrids bred by crossing other trailing species, such as S. magungensis, with rosette-type hybrids do not grow such long stems, and although multi-branched, these are often termed 'semi trailing' due to their shorter, more sideways growth.
Variegated foliage
There are three basic types of variegation in African violets to be seen on the upper surface of their leaves: 'Tommie Lou' with a white-edged leaf; crown, where the young centre leaves are white turning green as they reach maturity; and mosaic, having leaves speckled with white. Over the years hybridists have interbred these types so that white-edged leaves may also show crown and/or mosaic traits. Further breeding programmes have resulted in the variegation becoming cream, yellow, tan, pink and red as well as white in color on green. Rosette and trailing types of African violets can have variegated foliage.

Size of plants

Modern hybrids of African violets have a wide size range across a single crown when fully mature, so much so that classification of size has come into being over the years. It is important that plants are correctly sized, especially when taking part in competitive exhibition. There are four main size ranges, and these are termed miniature, semi-miniature, standard and large.

This size of hybrid grows up to 6in (15cm) across a single crown of a mature plant. Flowers and leaves are small in comparison, the flowers being about O.75in (2cm) in diameter, and the leaf blades about 1in (2.5cm) long when full grown. Now that there are very small hybrids being produced, the term micro-miniature can also be seen in catalogues, usually describing plants with a diameter of less than 3in (7.5cm) across a single crown. These hybrids can have flowers and leaves of even smaller size.
For exhibition purposes these hybrids must be more than 6in (15cm) and less than 8in (20cm) in diameter across a single crown at maturity. Their flowers can be nearly the same size as a small-growing standard-sized plant with their leaves about three-quarters the size. The quantity of flower is comparable to their size.
This size of plant will grow to over 8in (20cm) in diameter across a single crown, but must not exceed 16in (40cm) at maturity. Confusion can occur with the term 'standard' where in other plants it describes a specimen which has a long, bare stem or trunk below a head of foliage and flowers -rather than the measurement across the crown of leaves of an African violet. Flowers can be up to 2in (5cm) across the lobes, and leaf blades up to 3in (7.5cm) long.
Large hybrids are those which grow to more than 16in (40cm) across a single crown at maturity; it has been known for such a plant to reach a diameter of around 3ft (1m). The leaf blades can be as much as 6in (15cm) long, and 4 to 5in (10 to 12.5cm) wide, and individual flowers may be up to 3in (7.5cm) across their lobes. Obviously these are not plants to be grown to their full potential on a window-sill.
With trailing hybrids there could be some confusion with sizing due to their manner of growth. However, although the entire trailing plant can be rather large, the relevant hybrid size is still taken as the measurement across one single crown. Therefore trailing hybrids also fall within the four ranges of size listed.

Types of flower

This type of flower is that of all the species. It has five rounded lobes, as opposed to petals, in that they are joined at their base to form a very short corolla, whereas petals are individually separated. The upper two lobes are smaller than the lower three. One pair of stamens is present in single flowers.
These flowers have a single layer of lobes and a small tuft or crest of tiny lobes around the stamens. The crest may be of lobes up to half the size of the outer lobes, and does not form a complete layer. Usually there are two or more pairs of stamens present indicating that they are not single flowers.
Two or more complete layers of lobes, which are more often than not of the same size, are termed double flowers. However, the most frequently seen double flower will have a minimum of three layers and often more. Some are nowadays described as being a full double, a triple, or carnation-like. Once again, two or more pairs of stamens can be seen, and some of the stamens appear as tiny yellow swellings at the base of the lobe.
A single star flower has five slightly pointed lobes all of the same size. In a double star flower, the outer layer has lobes of equal size whilst the inner layers may be of unequal size.
This is a flower that cannot open fully to a flat face because the lobes are joined to their outer edge more than they would be normally. It invariably appears to be single, although there may be six or seven lobes. The presence of two pairs of stamens shows that in fact the form is semi- double.
This is a single flower where the top two lobes are much narrower and smaller than the lower three, thus giving the impression of the outline of a wasp or fly. This type of flower is not often seen nowadays, although it was fairly popular in hybrids some twenty years ago.
This type of flower is rarely seen in present-day hybrids, and is purely a collector's item. A tube is formed by the margins of the lobes turning back behind the upper lobes.
In this type, each lobe is ruffled lengthways, as in a fan. It may be single, semi-double or double in form.
Each lobe has a slightly undulating edge, and once again may be single, semi-double or double in form.
Each lobe is more undulating than the ruffled type of flower, even to the extent that it could be said to be wavy.
The edges of the lobes are so frilled as to give the impression of an Elizabethan ruff. The fringe is frequently of a color different to that of the lobes, and the flower may be single, semi-double or double.
This term is given to a flower which has a thin white edge to the lobes. It was derived from a plant raised on the Geneva Nursery in California, USA, in the late 1940s. Sometimes the white edge is so thin as to disappear, but it will return in later flowering.
Flowers with a wide colored band on their edge are termed bordered. The color of the border may be a shade of the color of the lobes, or an entirely different color, or even white. If the latter, the border is much wider than in a geneva, which is why the flower may not be termed as such.
This term seems to have a different meaning in African violets than in other plants, because it denotes a flower with two or more shades of one color as opposed to two different colors. Often in catalogues a bi-colour may also be described as a two-tone.
These flowers have two or more different colors in their lobes. Flowers on each peduncle may also be inconsistent in their color pattern in that some could be of one solid color whilst others are multicolored. This is probably a sign of instability.
In these flowers the main color of the lobes is speckled and/or splashed with another color. It may be single, semi-double or double in form, and is sometimes unstable in pattern.
A flower of this type may be a bicolor or a multicolor in that the lobes are striped centrally along their length either with one shade of a colour or with a different colour to that of the sides of the lobe. Originally there were only single-flowered chimeras, now there are semi-double and double-flowered plants.

Types of leafs

The all-green leaf most commonly seen on African violets: it is very like the leaves of S. ionantha and S. confusa. The term derives from the early hybrid 'Blue Boy'. It is now more frequently described as 'plain' or 'tailored' and at times as 'show foliage', although very many African violets have something more than plain leaves.
In this type the leaf petiole extends into the leaf blade as a white or very pale green area at its base. The leaf blade is more fleshy than boy types and often has a scalloped edge and a slightly pointed tip. The term comes from 'Blue Girl' which was a mutation from 'Blue Boy'. There is no sexual connotation to the two terms.
The leaf blade is oval in shape, the length being greater than the width. It is often combined with quilted leaves.
The tip of the leaf blade is more pointed than in the boy type, and can indeed be sharply pointed. The leaf blade surface may be smooth and somewhat glossy.
The length and width of the leaf blade are equal in length. This type is frequently seen combined with girl leaves.
The tip of the leaf blade is pointed, and at its base extends roundly on either side of the leaf petiole. Quite often the blade is smoothly flat.
The leaf blade is much longer in length than in width, the latter being comparatively narrow when compared with the ovate type. The upper surface of the blade can be quite hairy, and its tip is often pointed. This type has even been mistaken for a young Streptocarpus leaf.
The base of the leaf blade on either side of the petiole extends backwards and curls up to form secondary leaves, giving the impression of a bustle on the back of the leaf. It was often seen in hybrids some years ago, but is rare nowadays.
This term refers to the puckered, raised areas of the leaf blade lying between the veins as in quilting. It is probably the most frequently seen type of present-day hybrid.
The leaf blade is puckered, and its hairs grow from tiny raised points on the blade, as on the surface of a strawberry plant's leaf.
The edge of this type of leaf is very slightly undulating.
This describes a leaf blade with an undulating edge; the term is used more frequently than 'ruffled' for a leaf.
The edge of this leaf blade is much more deeply undulating, making a shape very similar to a prickly holly tree leaf.
This leaf blade has a broadly rounded toothed edge, as in an embroidered scalloped edge.
The edge of this leaf blade is sharply toothed, in the same way as material cut with a dressmaker's pinking shears; frequently the blade tip is also pointed.
The entire leaf edge is upturned so that the blade forms a depression, as in a spoon. This leaf type may also be described as 'cupped-up'.


Other than in the variegated hybrids, the upper surface of African violet leaves comes in all shades of green from very pale through to very dark, almost black, green. Similarly, the color of the lower surface may range from almost white through to pale green, to pink, to very dark red. The red pigmentation is due to the presence of anthrocyanins in the leaves which may be natural in the hybrid or can be produced during adverse growing conditions.

Variegated foliage appears in all the previously described types of leaf. It can be of white on green, or cream, yellow, tan, pink or red in any combination on green, and is seen solely on the upper surface of the leaves. It is so attractive in a well grown African violet that in periods of rest from flower production the plant may look just as beautiful. In these cases flowering becomes an added bonus. Very often several of these leaf types will appear in the foliage of a plant, such as in an ovate, scalloped, wavy variegated leaf or a serrated, spooned, pink-backed leaf.


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