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(April 2007)

QuestionI have a favorite African violet which I rescued from death in a super market years ago. The flowers are a lovely shade of pink, and are frilly around the edges, although they are single. It was a named variety, but I have always just called it "Frilly." As the old plant, which was second generation through leaf propagation, was appearing pretty elderly, I decided to pick another leaf, and grow another plant. I did the usual, putting the stem through a piece of aluminum foil into a glass of water, and setting it on the north windowsill. In time, the stem grew roots, and I potted it. Always before, one plant has grown from this arrangement. In this case, there were nine or ten! I separated and potted them. The "alpha pup," so to speak, began to bloom, and the blooms were just like those of the mother plant, of course. So are those of most of the others. But now, another of the other "pups" is blooming, and the blooms are very different. They are a much paler pink, close to white, with a touch of pink at the centers, and they are double! They have a second set of frilly petioles inside the first, in smaller size. They are very pretty, and I am pleased, but would like to know what happened. Is this a sport? Have you ever heard of a violet leaf having a whole litter like this? What gives?


AnswerTypically when we think of propagating a plant from a cutting, such as the leaf of an African violet, we think we are vegetatively propagating the plant, so we should get the exact same plant when it grows—all of the cells will have the same genetic make-up as the mother plant. . Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen with African violets. Some African violets are “chimeras”. That means that these plants have developed plant tissues where the individual cells are genetically different. Because of this, plants produced from leaf cuttings often are not identical to the plant from which the cutting were taken. The plants are considered “unstable”, meaning they won’t breed true. It is often the case with plants containing variegated leaves, two-tone flowers or those with frilly edges. So enjoy the diversity, and if you want to propagate the mother plant and guarantee the same plant, you must use divisions of the crown.

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