Meet Smithiantha -an African Violet cousin

by club member Dennis Kramb

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Smithiantha seedlings TS-A

Smithiantha are relatives to African violets that come from southern Mexico. There are 6 species and many different hybrids available. They enjoy slightly stronger light than AVs but not too much direct sun. They bloom with spikes of flowers from 10 inches to 30 inches tall depending on the variety, and the tubular flowers are about 2 inches long. The flower colors range from red to orange to yellow to white to lavender, sometimes with decorative stripes or dots. A few varieties are mildly fragrant. Their growth habit is a bit different than AVs. After blooming they will slowly decline and watering should be reduced. They will eventually go completely dormant & resprout again in a few months from rhizomes underground. They are exactly like Achimenes in this manner, if you happen to be familiar with those.

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Smithiantha seedlings TS-B

In April 2016 I bought 2 packets of seeds on eBay from Thad Scaggs in Florida. He’s a popular hybridizer of lots of different gesneriads. I planted them right away and got my first bloom in November. I had to wait another month for the next one to bloom on Christmas day. By then there was a new seedling blooming almost every day. I took photos of each one & compiled a collage for each batch. I labeled them TS-A and TS-B. And I still have many more seedlings that have yet to bloom. I was not prepared for the diversity of colors, shapes, patterns and sizes that I got. I could not be more thrilled! And there are still many more seedlings yet to bloom.

And I must mention the foliage. Smithiantha foliage is legendary! It is sooooo fuzzy and soft and fun to touch that I would grow Smithiantha even if they didn’t flower. The colors of the foliage are wide ranging as well. Some are so dark red they almost appear black. Others are green, in shades from very dark to almost chartreuse. And then others are combinations of multiple colors. And then some Smithiantha have leafs one color and the fuzzy hairs are a contrasting color, so the overall effect changes depending on your angle of view. My seedlings exhibit tremendous range of variety. The one that bloomed on Christmas Day had medium solid green leaves & stems with bright red hairs all over — perfect Christmas colors!

Normally Smithianthas are winter bloomers and dormant by the spring & summer. Therefore it’s rare to encounter them at any AV flower shows. But you can propagate them like AVs with just a leaf, and with a bit of luck it is possible to manage having a beautiful blooming plant in spring or summer. When they go dormant you can dig through the pot and harvest the rhizomes to share with your friends. This is a great way to share plants without risking hitchhikers like thrips. If you like the look of my Smithiantha flowers, check them out on Google to see what full grown plants look like. They make great companions for AVs.

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12 Weeks and Counting

img_4884With the Spring Show looming April 22-23, 2017, the countdown has started. Planning ahead ensures that plants are in peak condition just in time for judging. In her Growing to Show book Pauline Bartholomew has mapped out a plan.

Pauline says, “The grower walks a cultural tightrope in the months before a show; the methods used to increase growth and blossoming must be carefully balanced against the risk of spoiling symmetry by creating off-sized rows of leaves or burning or spotting sensitive foliage.”

Friday marks 12 weeks before the show. According to Pauline’s schedule, that means it is time to remove leaves. Re-pot; pot down if there are necks or pot up. if you choose to do it, foliar feed once in addition to regular fertilizing. Lights (in this case the timing is for T12s, adjust for other lights as needed) should be on twelve hours a day.

Let’s take a peek!

At the last meeting, club member Kasey Angeloni prepared a presentation taking a look at our members’ growing areas – all without leaving the seat of our chair! Members previously sent Kasey photos of their plants and stands and she compiled all into a PowerPoint presentation.

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE GROWERS’ SHOW AND TELL POWERPOINT PROGRAM 

 

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The Genus ‘Saintpaulia’

Joe Palagonia on ‘The Genus Saintpaulia’

(compiled by Marilyn Heinrich based on a talk given to the Long Island, New York Gesneriad Society. Reprinted from ‘The Violet Connection’, Volume 59, Issue 1, December 2010, Mel Grice, editor.)

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‘Red Lion’ grown by Linda Lloyd

In the October 9th meeting, Joe Palagonia gave us an overview of the African violet genus, Saintpaulia. The genus is found only in a small portion of Kenya and Tanzania, in East Africa. It was discovered and collected by Baron Walter von Saint Paul in 1892. There are currently 9 species and over 70 subspecies, most falling under species ionantha.

Saintpaulias grow mostly on limestone and prefer a neutral pH of 7 to slightly acid. Joe says that the species plants can grow at the ends of the tubes in a fluorescent light stand, that they like to grow cool, and like more lime than the hybrids. Joe has not observed a set blooming season for the species, they bloom whenever they want to.

Volume 59, No.1 of the Gesneriads magazine is a great reference to the species. Joe also recommended the book “Growing to Show” by Pauline Bartholomew which can be ordered from the AVSA.org website.

While the species’ blossoms are single and come in colors of pale lavender to purple, hybrids can have single, semidouble and double blossoms that come in pink, white, reddish purples and lavenders, and many combinations thereof. Hybrid blossoms can have edges, fantasy speckling or puffs, and chimera stripes. Hybrids also come in plant sizes classified as standards 8 inches in diameter or larger, semi-miniatures between 8 and 6 inches in diameter, and miniatures under 6 inches. There are micro-miniatures that can be grown in a shot glass size pot but they require a lot of attention to watering. Miniatures should be grown in 2 inch pots, and semi-miniatures in 2-1/2 inch pots. Standard violets should be grown in a pot 1/3 the diameter of the plant. You don’t want to over-pot Saintpaulias since bloom is encouraged when they are pot-bound.

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‘Buckeye Scrumptious’ grown by Anne Thomas

Joe recommends that when you get a new plant, it should be repotted into your own soil right away. Joe puts Marathon insecticide in all his plants’ soil. He uses a soil mix of 5 parts Promix, 2 parts Perlite, 1 part Vermiculite, 5 tablespoons of dolomite lime. His city water is acidic and so are fertilizer solutions, hence the extra lime. Joe uses fiberglass screening to line the bottom of his pots to keep soil from falling out of the holes. He then adds one inch of plain perlite before adding soil. He waters once a week.

Leaves are started in a perlite/vermiculite mix, in a shot glass size to 2 inch size pot. Baby plants are repotted every 2 to 3 months. Repot in sequence (standards) from a 2 inch pot to a 3 inch, to a 3.5 inch, to a 4 inch, up to a 5 inch if necessary. Don’t over or under pot and don’t over or under water. Species plants don’t like too much water.

When repotting, firm the soil around the plant so that it doesn’t wiggle around. You need to know what kind of plant you are repotting — mini, semi-miniature, standard or trailer. A fully grown plant only needs to be refreshed in the same size pot every 6 months. You should repot regularly to keep the plant growing steadily or the change in culture will show up in the size of leaves. If you practice bottom watering, the fertilizer salts will dry up and collect at the top of the soil, so the top of the soil must be removed when repotting.

Don’t be afraid to remove bottom leaves to train the plant for proper symmetry. There is a schedule in the “Growing to Show” book that is excellent to follow. Labeling plants is very important. Joe recommends the use of white electrical tape on the side of the pot.

Joe uses 2-tube fluorescent fixtures with wide spectrum bulbs. Standards are grown 12 inches under the tubes, and mini/semimini’s are 8 inches below. He runs his lights for 10 hours during the year, but for 12 hours before show. He gets 40 mini/semimini plants on one shelf.

When growing trailers, light must get into the center of the plant. So pinch out leaves to open up the center. When beginning to grow a trailer, take out lower leaves to let light in and get growth, branching and bloom.

Joe doesn’t wick water. He says it requires maintaining reservoir water/fertilizer balance in spite of evaporation. It is also easy to forget to add water to a dry reservoir. Reservoirs take room and have to be cleaned. Joe uses saucers for watering. Joe recommends Physan to keep algae down and says it is also good for keeping white pots clean.

Since Joe has won Best In Show several times, his methods have much to recommend them.

 

2016 Christmas Party

The annual Holiday Dinner is a great way to end the year. Everyone brings a covered dish to share and this year Jo made the turkey and fixins. In place of the Silent Auction, we had a gift exchange – and you could steal! The evening ended with a round of Bingo with winners getting a centerpiece to take home. Happy Holidays from our homes to yours!

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