Dark ‘Staining’ or Mottling on Leaves

Question:  Our club is growing ‘Rob’s Sunspot’ as our project plant.  Many members are experiencing “red staining” on the plant leaves, though the variety description doesn’t mention this.  Is this a genetic condition?

Answer:  Yes, this is a genetic condition.  This registered variety is described as a “double white star with bright red mottling”.  Multicolored varieties, such as this one, often exhibit mottling in their leaves–the “red staining” described in the question.  Many varieties with such multicolored blooms will also sometimes show mottling in their leaves. 

By their nature, multicolor blossomed varieties are more genetically unstable.  This is the small price we pay for the beauty of the flowers.  Personally, we’ve found those plants with mottling in the foliage make the prettiest plants, since the coloring in the foliage usually means more coloring in the blooms.  We tend to set these aside as our showplants.  We’ve also found that many of these varieties tend to mottle more (in blooms and foliage) as the plants mature.

Variegated Leaves Turning all Green

Question:  I have a violet that, about a year ago, developed a variegated leaf, then another, until all were variegated.  I started new plants from those leaves, but they all grew green leaves.  The variegated suckers also didn’t seem to produce much variegation when rooted.  Do you have any ideas?

Answer:  Our guess is that this is just another kind of genetic mutation.  We’ve had plants do the same, sometimes where the entire plant was heavily variegated.  Except for one instance, we’ve never had any success in propagating variegated plantlets from leaves or suckers.  Usually, given enough time, the original variegated plant also loses much of its variegation, or reverts back to solid green foliage.  It’s really too bad, since a few of these plants have had absolutely exquisite variegation.  If the variegation really is distinctive, keep trying.  After all, much of what we have in today’s hybrids first showed themselves as mutations–‘Tommi-Lou’ variegation and yellow blooms being two very notable examples

Leaf Chimeras

Question:  In the last couple of months, on e-Bay, I saw a chimera (‘Rob’s Lucky Penny’) that had normal (not striped) flowers, but a stread of white on the sides of all of its leaves.  But, the auctioner of this plant made the point that the variegation was from chimeralism, and that the leaves wouldn’t lose their color with diet or heat.  I would like to know more about propagating these types of plants.

Answer:  Most African violets can be successfully propagated by leaf, producing plants that are genetically identical to the leaf donor.  It normally doesn’t matter which leaf is used for propagation, since all fo the cells of one leaf are genetically identical to the cells of any other.  Chimeras are different, however.  These plants have plant tissues where individual cells are genetically different from one another.  Because of this, producing plantlets identical to the donor plant is difficult by leaf cuttings.  Not every cell in every leaf is genetically the same as the plant it is removed from.

The word “chimera” has become synonymous with plants having “pinwheel”, or striped, blooms, because most of these varieties can’t be successfully propagated by leaf cuttings.  The plantlets produced usually will bloom without the pinwheel pattern to the bloom   Successful propagation is only possible by letting the plants produce “suckers”, harvesting these, then rooting them.  To encourage suckers, the plants is often decrowned (the center is removed), leaving a “stump” behind that will produce more (and likely more viable) suckers.  

In this instance, the “chimera” was a plant without pinwheel blooms, but with unusually variegated foliage that would only appear in plantlets when propagated by suckers.  “Chimera”, again, refers to the genetic properties of the plant’s cells, which determines how it must be propagated, not the bloom or foliage coloring.  When propagated by leaf cutting, the plantlets produced from ‘Rob’s Lucky Penny’ would be entirely green, with no variegation (and we’ve found this variegation to be unique in that its intensity is immune to temperature, age, or feeding).  Propagation by suckers is the only means of producing plantlets identical to the original plant.

Green Leaf Producing White Leaved Plantlets

Question:  I know very little about African violets, so this question might seem silly.  Recently, I started a plant from a normal-looking, green, leaf.  When the plantlet appeared, all of its leaves were white in color.  How common is an African violet with white leaves?

Answer:  This isn’t a silly question at all, especially from someone still new to our hobby.  A violet with white in its leaves is called ‘variegated’.  Depending upon the variety, the amount of variegation can be scarcely visible or may be so great as to make a leaf nearly entirely white.  Unfortunately, many of these varieties can lose their variegation as they age, or when grown under warm conditions.  I suspect that the leaf that you rooted was taken from a plant that was originally variegated but had lost its variegation and turned green.  Genetically, however, that leaf is still variegated and will produce variegated plantlets when used for propagation.  In fact, it’s usually wise to use the “greener” leaves of a variegated variety for propagation, since these leaves are often more vigorous than the very white ones from the same plant and will produce more plantlets more quickly.  These white plantlets will likely also eventually turn green if grown under the same conditions as the original.

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