African violet diseases pictures

Diagnosing an African Violet

Doctor Optimara allows you to progressively input combinations of symptoms in order to zero in on the cause. At each step, you can view the entire list of problems which may cause the symptoms you have indicated to that point. When the diagnosis is complete, you will be provided with a complete description of the problem, along with recommended treatment and prevention options. To begin diagnosing your African Violet, click on one of the buttons below. Select the one which best describes the part of the plant on which you are seeing symptoms.

Note: “Other” includes symptoms which either do not appear on the other five areas or are not specific to any one area of the plant, i.e., symptoms which appear on the plant as a whole or in the soil, pot or watering device.
Looking up Pests or Pathogens by Name

If you are simply interested in obtaining information on a particular pest, pathogen or cultural problem, you may access the complete list by clicking on “Pests, Pathogens and Cultural Problems (Complete List).”

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African Violet Blight Control: Treating African Violets With Botrytis Blight

We are all familiar with cold and flu season and how contagious both illnesses can be. In the plant world, certain diseases are just as rampant and easy to pass from plant to plant. Botrytis blight of African violets is a serious fungal disease, especially in greenhouses. African violet fungal diseases such as these destroy blooms and can attack other parts of the plant. Recognizing the symptoms can help you develop a plan of attack early on and head off an outbreak among your prized African violets.

African Violets with Botrytis Blight

African violets are beloved houseplants with sweet little blooms and engaging fuzzy leaves. The most common diseases of African violet are fungal. Botrytis blight affects many types of plants but is prevalent in the African violet population. It may also be called bud rot or gray mold, descriptive terms that point to the symptoms of the disease. African violet blight control starts with plant isolation, just as you would with a potentially fatal contagious disease in animals and humans.

Botrytis blight stems from the fungus Botrytis cinerea.

It is most common in situations where plants are crowded, ventilation is not sufficient and there is high humidity, especially brief periods where temperatures cool quickly. It affects many ornamental plants, but in violets it is called Botrytis blossom blight. This is because Botrytis blight of African violets is most evident on the lovely flowers and buds.

If left unchecked, it will rage across your violet population and destroy the flowers and eventually the plant. Knowing the symptoms can help prevent the spread of the disease but, sadly, African violets with Botrytis blight may need to be destroyed.

Symptoms of Botrytis Blight of African Violets

African violet fungal diseases such as Botrytis thrive in moist conditions. The signs of the disease start with blooms becoming gray or almost colorless petals, and center crown growth that is stunted.

Progression of the disease shows an increase in the fungal bodies with a fuzzy gray to brown growth on leaves and stems. Small water soaked lesions will form on the leaves and stems.

In some cases, the fungus will be introduced in small cuts or damage on the plant but it also attacks healthy tissues. Leaves wilt and darken and flowers fade and seem to melt. This shows an advanced case of Botrytis blight.

African Violet Blight Control

Affected plants cannot be cured. When disease symptoms infect all parts of the plant, they need to be destroyed but not tossed in the compost bin. The fungus may be able to remain in compost, especially if it hasn’t maintained a high temperature.

If damage presents as minimal, remove all infected plant tissue and isolate the plant. Treat with fungicide. If only one plant shows signs, you may be able to rescue the other violets. Treat unaffected plants with a fungicide such as Captan or Benomyl. Space plants to increase air circulation.

When reusing pots, sanitize them with a bleach solution to prevent spreading the fungus to new plants. African violets with Botrytis blight may be saved if quick action is taken and the disease is not rampant.


Varieties and types: Saintpaulia is a genus comprising of approximately 20 species and subspecies, and many varietes. There are a fair few types including standard, trailers, miniatures, and chimeras (a basic way to put them into a category). Various species includes different sizes, flower colors and foliage types.

A grower needs to understand which type they have if they plan to propagate them – the procedure is different (for the Chimera). There are actually thousands of hybrids with various flower colors/forms and leaf types available.

Basic explanation of types and sizes.

  • Standard: The standard type usually grows to around 8in – 16in diameter or possibly more, and displays most of the colors/types that African violets can bloom.

  • Miniature: The miniature is said to grow from approx 3in – 6in diameter “and they get smaller” with the micro-mini which is less than 3 inches. There is also the semi-miniature AV that grows from approx 6in – 8in (diameter).

  • Large: Larger sized plants could be judged as above 16in (diameter).

  • Trailing: Trailing AV plants are grown as trailers – whichever size it is. These are multi-crowned hybrids that grow well in hanging baskets, or fairly shallow pots.

  • Chimera A.violets: Chimera is a strain of A.violets that produce distinct striped petals and have to be propagated from suckers, rather than leaf cuttings. Propagating from cuttings is not likely to produce the same plant that cuttings are taken from. This is because the plant cells are genetically different, which explains why they’re propagated with suckers.

Petals and leaves: There is a huge amount of various color combination’s for petals, from pinks (Rococo pink) to the multi-colored double flowered Candy dandy (yep..some peculiar names indeed). The petals also have different shapes, edges, amounts – and can be double flowered.

There are also various leaf varieties that includes names such as the boy, girl, variegated (green and white), spoon, holly, serrated and lance shaped.

Blooming: Experts can keep these blooming for around 10 months or more a year – with the use of artificial lighting, correct temperatures and conditions. Basically, they can flower all year round, depending on how well they are cared for. You can expect the flowers to bloom for a few days – and upto a few weeks, although the length of time they flower depends very much on their environment/conditions.

African Violet Stock Photos

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Pests and Diseases

This page addresses the most common pests and diseases of African violets. If one of these titles interests you, click on it to go directly to that section.

Prevention Thrips Mealybugs Mites Diseases

1. Preventive measures are important. Keep the plant area clean, isolate new plants from old ones until you are sure they are problem-free. Sterilize pots and saucers that are to be re-used. Use sterilized or pasteurized soil.

2. Common insect pests are thrips and mealybugs. Mites are also a danger.

3. The most common diseases are fungal, especially powdery mildew.

4. Pests and diseases can be attacked with chemical pesticides, more natural and traditional treatments, and now, in the cases of insects and mites, natural predators and parasites.

Occasionally a grower’s collection of gorgeous plants is suffers an outbreak of pests or disease. Growing indoors does not make our plants immune to the horrors that all gardeners will sometimes find in the outdoor garden. Little bugs and tiny disease spores have no problem getting indoors.

Prevention of pests and diseases is of prime importance. The little extra work that prevention involves is well worth it in ensuring a healthy collection. An infestation is a disaster which may necessitate measures as drastic as throwing the whole collection out. We have learned from experience to practise prevention.

The first important preventive measure is to inspect all plants regularly for possible problems. When buying new plants or accepting them as a gift inspect them also and particularly carefully. All newly acquired plants should be isolated from the rest of the collection (preferably in another room) for a minimum of six weeks. This gives insect eggs a chance to hatch or disease spores a chance to do their work and you can then determine if your new plant is infested before exposing your other plants to the danger. While it is in isolation like this you will want to tend your new plant using different tools from those used on the main collection. Always wash your hands after handling the isolated plant.

Keep other plant materials out of the plant room. (Some African violet growers would say out of the house not merely out of the room.) The little pests that love your garden plants would love that special opportunity to come indoors and devour your African violets too.

Never bring your outdoor plants or their cut blooms into the plant room. Transfer of minute insects is almost inevitable and some of them can be extremely destructive of African violets. The same applies to cut flowers and plants from nurseries. Commercially grown flowers are often infested. Your Valentine’s Day roses may look and smell wonderful; however, tiny blossom thrips love roses too and they also love African violets. Keep them away. Outdoor pests get a wonderful opportunity to come indoors when you proceed to the plant room directly from gardening outdoors. They can travel on your hands, hair and clothing. You should wash and change before attending to the indoor plants after being outdoors, or, if you are a good scheduler, plan your plant room visit to be after your regular bath and change.

Observe good general cleanliness in the plant room. Keep your shelves clean. Use only pots and saucers that have been washed, rinsed, soaked for a minimum often minutes in a chlorine bleach solution (1 part bleach to 15 parts water), and rinsed again. This prevents eggs and spores from old plants from transferring themselves to your new ones. Wash all other planting equipment — scoops, knives, tweezers, etc. — after each use.
Space your plants well on the shelves. Crowding them, allowing them to touch, will reduce air circulation and increase the opportunities for spores of fungal disease to take hold.
Your growing medium should be sterile or pasteurized. If the package does not indicate that it is, ask your supplier. Otherwise it can be another source of insect eggs and disease spores.

Just a few words about the more common African violet pests: The pest that seems to appear most often in our area is thrips. Thrips are tiny insects, off-white to beige-brown in colour and 2 to 4 mm. in length. While they survive on the leaves of plants that are out of bloom, they are most evident on blooming plants. They look like little bits of thread scurrying across the petals of the blossoms and into the area of the anthers.They love to eat the protein-rich pollen hidden in the yellow anthers and often spill it on the petals. If you don’t see the insects directly, spilt pollen is a possible indicator of their presence.
Once established, thrips are very hard to eliminate and any plant with them is an eyesore which cannot be enjoyed. The standard, non-chemical way of treating plants with thrips is to disbud them preventing bloom for a period of six months. Unfortunately, a bug or two may survive and when the blossoms appear again so do the bugs. Safe insecticides such as insecticidal soap are of limited effectiveness and the bugs often elude the more toxic chemical insecticides although there are good reports about one or two of the strongest available.

Both foliar and soil mealybugs will infest African violets if given the chance. Foliar mealybugs look like minute balls of cotton hiding near the bases of the leaves from which they suck the juices. Soil mealybugs suck the juices from the roots and bear a resemblance to small particles of perlite or grains of rice.

Foliar mealybugs can be controlled though not eliminated by picking them off by hand and/or wiping them away with a swab dipped in alcohol and rinsing with lukewarm water. The usual approach to soil mealybugs is to use a soil drench made of a chemical insecticide. This may be only partially effective as the bugs can usually find an area of soil that the drench has not reached and weather the storm in this haven.

Mites, not insects but eight-legged spider relatives, are the final common pest. Broad mites are tiny but barely visible and range in colour from dark green to amber. They hide on the undersides of leaves where they suck the juices. Leaves curled under at the edges and becoming brittle are signs of their presence.

Their distant kin the cyclamen mite is the most dangerous of all African violet pests. They are invisible to the naked eye and can just barely be seen with a hand-magnification lens with a power of 1Ox. For such tiny creatures the damage they do is remarkable. The first sign of their presence is a fuzzy whiteness in the centre of the plant. Infected leaves curl upwards. A seriously infested plant will die within weeks. While chemical miticides are available, it is very difficult to defend against a mite infestation. Most experienced growers advise that you isolate the first affected plant you spot until an expert can examine it. If the expert confirms your suspicion that you have mites throw out the plant. Watch the rest of your collection carefully. If you have caught them early, the mites may not have a chance to spread. If they have spread, your choices are to use a miticide or dispose of all your plants. Most local experts say to do the latter as the safer alternative. Start collecting again after cleaning and sterilizing the plant area and your tools. Better still, acquire new tools.

In recent years, African violet growers have been turning to natural predators and parasites of the insect and mite pests as a safe way to control the problems. There are other insects and mites which can be introduced into the plant collection to eat the problem insects as prey. Nematodes can also be introduced which parasitize them. These little marvels are available commercially, but can be hard to get and they are expensive.

Disease can also affect the African violet, but it is not a frequent occurrence if proper growing conditions are maintained. Most common are the fungal diseases including different forms of mildew, especially powdery mildew, botrytis blight and crown rot. The one most frequently encountered is powdery mildew which is hard to avoid as the spores are everywhere. It looks like white powder sprinkled on the leaves. Fortunately, it is easily treated by dusting the leaves with flowers of sulphur, then gently brushing off the sulphur in a few days after it has done its job. There are also several modern chemical treatments.
Bacterial and viral diseases do occur in African violets but are not a frequent problem.

Plant of the Week: Violet, African Variegated

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture does not promote, support or recommend plants featured in “Plant of the Week.” Please consult your local Extension office for plants suitable for your region.

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Variegated African Violets
Latin: Saintpaulia ionantha “Variegated Clones”

African violets are essentially 20th century plants, first discovered along ravines in deep undergrowth about 1890 in the wilds of equatorial east Africa. Most of the 2000 named selections of African violets now available are derived from the first species discovered, Saintpaulia ionantha . Hobby and professional plant breeders have used all the tricks at their disposal to produce modern types. In addition to traditional breeding techniques, polyploid techniques and interspecific hybridization, breeders have also used the sledge hammer approach – a technique called mutation breeding.

For a breeder to change a plant much by breeding, there must be some variation in the population. This variation can come from natural differences within a species, from variation found in related species, or from mutant forms that occur spontaneously. It has been estimated that for every million cell divisions, one mutation will occur. Most of these mutations have no effect or are detrimental, but occasionally, mutations can be beneficial.

In 1928 researchers discovered that the mutation rate could be increased dramatically by bombarding cells with X-rays. This was soon followed by the use of mutagenic chemicals, things we now guard carefully against introducing into our workaday world. Then we dropped the bomb.

With the explosion of the atomic bombs in Japan in 1945, scientists immediately saw the potential for using radiation exposure in their breeding programs. Using nuclear energy in a breeding program made perfect sense to the government as officials sought to develop peaceful uses of atomic energy. During those naive, post-war years optimism ran deep and all assumed that this awesome new force that had been unleashed in the world was going to do nothing but good.

During the go-go days of the 60’s and 70’s everything imaginable, including African violet shoots and leaves, were blasted with doses of radiation at the Oak Ridge reactor in Tennessee . It became standard course amongst many breeders of a wide range of crops to send their cuttings or seeds in to be zapped, on the odd chance that something good might happen.

As it turns out, this shotgun approach was incredibly inefficient. Gamma rays passing through strands of DNA cause all sorts of changes, but the nature of the change is unpredictable and the genetic stability of the resultant plant is often difficult to control.

One of the common side effects of mutation breeding is variegation. While I don’t know for sure the variegated African violet shown was a product of mutation breeding, I do know that variegated forms were produced using this technique. These mutated forms are inherently unstable and difficult to fix in their variegation pattern, so reversions to green or sometimes albino forms are common.

Mutation breeding resulted in a worldwide release of over 1000 new seed-propagated plants between 1963 and 1991, the heyday for the use of the technique. Most of these plants were farm crops, with rice, soybeans and barley the most common. The number of vegetatively propagated plants – those increased by cuttings or grafting – is undoubtedly equally large.

The United States never embraced mutation breeding the way other parts of the world did. China , India , and the USSR were especially fond of this breeding approach, while US scientists tended to prefer techniques that produced more predictable results. Mutations, regardless of how they were formed, have no carryover effect and cannot produce further mutations amongst other plants or gardeners working with them.

Variegated African violets require the same growing conditions as all-green selections, but they are a bit slower because they contain less chlorophyll. Give them a bright area with indirect light, fertilize regularly and maintain uniform moisture, and they will be happy as clams. The problem with their genetic instability arises when leaf cuttings are used to start new plants. Depending on where the new plantlets arise, they can be more or less variegated than the original plant.

By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension Horticulturist – Ornamentals
Extension News – September 17, 2004

The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.

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