African violet mutations or “sports” happen fairly often spontaneously, and the results can be delightful, disappointing, or anything in-between. The term “chimera” is used to describe a plant that differs genetically from that which is typical for its species. In African violets, chimeras often exhibit striped or pinwheel color patterns in the flowers, or very thick, stiff, or brittle stems or leaves as in “Supreme” foliage (tetraploids). There are also chimeral leaf types, such as Rob’s Lucky Penny (unusual variegation pattern). African violets that are chimeras cannot be reproduced true to description by planting a leaf. Only suckers or offshoots will exhibit the mutation.
Sports can happen spontaneously (a sudden change in the plant`s chromosomes) or as the result of a culture break such as extreme temperatures, drought, or pest infestation. Mutations also may be induced intentionally by the grower through the use of various agents. I have experimented with a few of the following agents but haven’t produced anything worthy of mention.
Inducing Mutations in African Violets
Colchicine is a poisonous extract derived from a type of wild crocus plant. It is a known mutagenic agent that has been used in experiments on African violets for over fifty years, notably the early work of Blakeslee and Avery in 1937. The idea is to apply a solution or salve to a cut leaf petiole after it has callused over. Plantlets produced from the leaf could carry twice the normal number of chromosomes. Early registered examples of this type of mutation were the DuPont, Amazon and Supreme series of African violets.
Gibberellic acid is a naturally occurring plant hormone that controls development and regulates growth. It is widely used agriculturally and is found in many plant booster formulae available commercially. Early use on African violets as a direct application to induce mutation resulted in such negative traits as elongated petioles and leaves, distorted flowers, and generally unattractive plants. It is still widely used in agriculture to induce polyploidy in other plant species.
A number of weed killers have been shown to cause cell mutations, such as Oryzalin (Fuflan), Treflan (trifluralin), Dimension (dithiopyr) and Visor (thiazopyr). These have been used in commercial agriculture on various plant species.
The best-known experiment with radiation and African violets resulted in Optimara’s “Space Violets“, the EverFloris series. Many growers are currently experimenting with controlled exposure of leaves and seeds to X-rays, infrared light, and microwaves.
There have been reports of growers feeding their plants with water containing dissolved birth control pills, hair-regrowth medications, fertility hormones, acne medications etc. in the hope of inducing mutations since these controlled substances are known to cause mutation in human cells. To date I haven’t uncovered any reports about new or unusual results from such experiments.
To learn more about inducing polyploidy plants: