African violet hybridising is the process in which new varieties of violets are created.
Although most African violet (AV) plants are grown from leaf cuttings, they can be successfully propagated from seed. AVs don’t come true to the parent from seed, and this variability is exactly what we need in order to produce new hybrids.
Starting an African violet from seed is a time-consuming process, but it is also very rewarding if you have the patience to wait for seedlings to bloom.
Read on for a step-by-step beginner’s guide to hybridising African Violets.
Step 1: Choose parent plants with characteristics that you like.
Characteristics that you may want to consider include: blossom colour, leaf colour, leaf shape, plant size, trailing habit, leaf variegation pattern etc.
You don’t need to understand genetics in order to be able to hybridise African violets. You can just pick any two parent plants and let their offspring surprise you. (If this is your preference, go to Step 2).
However, if you do understand a little about, or are interested in genetics, you could put a bit of thought into the process of selection of parent plants. Of course, understanding the principles of genetics does not equal to knowing what the baby plants will turn out like, but it can be useful to know about dominant and recessive traits, so you can direct your hybridising efforts.
Here is a link to a page that has a list of dominant and recessive genetic traits of African violets:
Step 2: Pollination
Step 2.1: Decide which of the two parent plants will be the pollen parent (i.e the “father”).
Step 2.2: On the chosen “father” plant, pick a blossom that meets the following criteria:
- opened more than a few days ago (it has to be at least a few days old, because when a blossom first opens, the pollen is immature and does not work)
- the pollen sacs need to be dry and firm
- the pollen should be powdery (don’t use mushy pollen, as it is unlikely to work.)
Step 2.3: Using clean tweezers, pull the pollen sacs off the pollen parent’s blossom.
Step 2.4: Carefully break the pollen sacs with a toothpick
Step 2.5: On the chosen “mother” plant (the one that will be seed-bearing after successful pollination), pick a blossom that is a few days old with a shiny sticky-looking stigma (see where the arrow is pointing in the photo in step 2.6)
Step 2.6: Pick up some pollen with a toothpick and transfer it to the “mother” plant’s stigma (see photo).
Make sure that it is well-coated. If you are struggling to pick up pollen with a toothpick, you can pick up a piece of the pollen sac with tweezers and maneuver it to the stigma.
Step 2.7: Tag the flower stem with the flower you just pollinated, identifying cross details. You can use stickers with cross-identifying information written on them or even just a piece of embroidery floss to colour-code the cross.
Step 3: Wait for the seed pod to develop, mature and dry
After successful pollination, a seed pod starts developing. Keep the mother plant healthy while the pod is growing. It can take around 6 months for a seed pod to fully mature. Wait for the seed pod to fully dry before you remove it from the “mother” plant. Once removed, keep the unopened seed pod in a paper envelope in a dry place (room temperature) for a week or so (just to make sure it’s really dry).
In the photo below, you can see a couple of dry seedpods. The one on the left is very small, but I will give it a chance anyway and will sow the seeds it contains.
Step 4: Open/break the seed pod super-carefully over a sheet of paper and try not to breathe (the seeds are like dust and months of waiting can fly away from a slightest breeze)
Step 5: Use a sheet of paper to scatter the seeds on a bed of moistened medium.
I usually use a plastic takeaway container with moistened (not dripping wet) vermiculite, fine seed raising mix or pre-buffered fine coco-perlite mix.
Don’t cover the seeds with medium (they’re tiny and do not need barriers stopping them from growing). Just scatter them on top of the moistened medium, and remember to label the container with the seedlings’ parents’ names and the sowing date.
Step 6: Place the container with the medium and the scattered seeds inside a clear plastic bag to create a “greenhouse”. Keep the container in a warm and bright spot (not direct sun). Wait patiently for germination (usually takes around 2 weeks for seeds to start germinating).
Step 7: Wait for the seedlings to grow
Step 7.1: At around one month after sowing, gradually acclimatise the seedlings to room conditions by removing the cover over a span of several days.
After the cover is removed, the growing medium will need to be kept moist (not dripping wet). If you are using seed raising mix, water will likely be sufficient (because commercially available seed raising mixes often contain fertiliser already). If you’re using vermiculite, a very weak African violet fertiliser solution can be beneficial.
Step 7.2: Once the seedlings have grown to about 2-3 cm, transplant them into tiny individual pots.
Step 8: Once the seedlings in the tiny individual pots are too big for their little pots, transplant them into bigger pots.
It is likely to take around 6 months for a seedling to go from being transplanted into a tiny pot to being big enough to bloom.
Step 9: Once your hybrids are blooming, you have to make a difficult decision: to keep or not to keep.
Select out only the best hybrids, and discard or rehome the rest.