Question: I have a Gloxinia erinoides ‘Polo Polo’ which I planted in a terrarium. It has only one leaf left alive and tiny green and white things on the otherwise naked upright stems. One stem has nothing left at all. Do you think the plant will come back from its roots? It seems barely alive.
Answer: The little “green and white things” are actually rhizomes. All Gloxinia are rhizomatous plants (Sinningia which are often mistakenly called gloxinia are tuberous), and this is their way of reproducing easily. So long as the plant, or its rhizomes, remain alive, they will eventually develop into new growth. The high humidity in your terrarium also happens to be conducive to producint rhizomes above the soil. Just let the plant resprout and grow out. Keep it moist, but not soggy–you don’t want to rot the rhizomes. Rhizomatous plants like this one tend to be well-suited to survival and reproduction. Each one of those tiny “scales” that you see on the rhizomes has the potential for becoming and individual plant! If anything, the plant you are concerned about surviving may very well be, in time, the dominant plant in your terrarium!
Question: How can I maximize the number of babies that I get from a single leaf? Sometimes I have only one to spare.
Answer: This is a problem most of us in this hobby don’t have. It was years before we realized that we didn’t need to root every leaf ever removed from our violets. Not to mention that we didn’t have the space to grow all of the resulting plantlets! Sometimes, though, you have only one to spare–say, one purchased at a show, from a special plant.
Fortunately, African violets are very easy to propagate, in a variety of ways, from leaf. Here’s what we do. If the leaf is large enough, cut away all of the leaf blade, leaving a “dime-sized” portion still attached to the petiole (stem). Cut the petiole at an angle (cut-side facing up) at a length of perhaps 1/2″, and root as you normally would, using a very light and porous rooting medium. The more surface area exposed by the cut, the greater number of plantlets you are likely to get. The trade-off is that the rooted leaf may be more difficult to root and produce less vigorous plantlets, since a greater number will be competing for the same space and nutrients.
The section of the leaf blade that was removed can also be rooted. Remove the center vein. Take the resulting sections and firmly place the, center-side down, into your rooting medium. These leaf “wedges” will also produce plantlets (though more slowly). If the leaf blade is large enough, a number of small wedges can be made. Lastly, if plantlets are carefully removed from the rooted leaf, it can be used a second time.
Question: I root my leaf cuttings in water. The leaf will produce a plantlet, but when I pot it into soil, it dies. Should I remove the mother leaf when I do this?
Answer: Though leaves may be rooted in water, there are disadvantages to this method. The root system that develops is one that is best adapted to growing in water. Potting the plantlet into soil means adapting to a much different environment. Also, you’ll notice how the roots “cling” together when removed from the water. Without a spreading root system, which maximizes exposure to moisture and nutrients, the plantlet is at a further disadvantage when potted into soil.
Partly for these reasons, most growers root leaves in something other than water. Any very light, porous, medium will work. These are made up mostly (or entirely) of vermiculite and perlite. Besides producing more plantlets per leaf, these media will produce better developed root systems that adapt easily to potting into soil.
As for removing the mother leaf, this can be done when the plantlet is potted alone. If you’re concerned about the plantlet’s survival, you can place it in a clear sandwich bag for a few weeks. The high humidity within the bag will keep the plantlet from wilting. Further watering shouldn’t be needed if the bag is sealed–if it’s too soggy, it may rot.
Question: I am new to propagating African violets. My question is: how long does it take for them to sprout? The leaves aren’t dying or anything, just sitting there.
Answer: How many plantlets a leaf produces, and how quickly it does so, depends upon a number of things. First, the age of the leaf. It’s best to use leaves that are mature, but not old. This usually means leaves taken from say, the third row. Leaves much older than this have petioles that are “tougher” in texture. If the petiole is hard or leathery, it will likely be slower to produce plantlets. Leaves that are too young also propagate less well. For this reason, it’s best to avoid using the undersized, “baby” leaves that appear first on a very young plant. We’ve found that plantlets can be removed from the mother leaf and individually potted anywhere from 3 to 5 months from the date the leaf was first put down.
Other factors are rooting medium, your growing conditions, and variety. Use a very light rooting medium, one that can be kept moist without rotting the leaves. Personally, ours is about 75% coarse vermiculite, 5% perlite, and the remainder sphagnum peat moss. Many growers use a mix of only vermiculite and perlite. In any event, keep it light and porous. Leaves also seem to produce plantlets more quickly when they are kept covered say, in clear plastic box or baggie. When doing this, be sure not to overwater the medium (damp but not soggy). Keep the leaves in a bright area (no direct sun) that’s neither cool nor warm–65f to 75f degrees is best. Too cold and they will develop very slowly, too warm and they may rot. As it is with most things, variety can also be a big factor. Some varieties just seem to propagate more quickly and prolifically.
A couple of final tips. Don’t cut the petioles too long and don’t bury them too deep. Most plantlets are produced from the cut end of the petiole. The further this end is beneath the soil surface, the longer it will be before plantlets appear. We cut them to about 1/4″ to 1/2″ in length, and root the leaf so that the bottom of the leaf blade is level with the surface of the rooting medium. It also speeds things along if the tip of the leaf blade is trimmed away. This keeps the leaf itself from growing and promotes more rapid root and plantlet development. Finally, add a little fertilizer to the rooting medium, though some might disagree with this. Our feeling is that every growing thing needs food. After all, we wouldn’t think of withholding food from an expectant mother or newborn