PPDL Picture of the Week for
December 5, 2011

Cold Water Damage on African Violet

Janna Beckerman, Associate Professor, Department of Botany & Plant Pathology

The African violet (Saintpaulia ionantha) is a workhorse of a houseplant. When flowering, they can be spectacular, with shades of pink, and purple, bicolors, and even picoteed and pinwheels. Of course, there are white violets for purists. With over 40,000 cultivars, choosing which African violet may be difficult! When not in flower, the compact plant with furry leaves is attractive. Less attractive, but easily avoided, is the unsightly white or yellow ring patterns and lines that sometimes show up on leaves. There are variegated leaved violets, like ‘Mas Debutante’ or ‘Celina Dark Velvet’ or ‘Robs Lucky Ducky’, and viruses are always a possible cause, but more often than not, the sudden leaf mottles, mosaics and ringspots, are caused by chilling injury of the leaves by cold water.

Although unsightly, the problem isn’t fatal—unless you can’t stand it and throw the plant away! In the future, this problem can be easily avoided by carefully watering the plants from below with room temperature water, or simply avoiding getting the leave wet. Another easy way to keep violets watered is to use a wick (a tightly rolled 4-6” length of cheesecloth will do) extending through the drainage hole into a saucer of water. Alternatively, submerge the pots in a larger pot of water, soak for an hour or two and drain (never let the roots sit in water for more than a few hours!). Lastly, they even have special violet pots, in which the water is absorbed through the unglazed portion of the inner pot on an as needed basis.

What to do if your violets are suddenly looking a bit vile? Assuming it isn’t virus, and the plant seems otherwise healthy, the patient grower will be eventually rewarded when the plant outgrows the problem.

Click image to enlarge

Cold water spots on violet leaves

Purdue Plant & Pest Diagnostic Lab Purdue Cooperative Extension Service