Growing African violets is often an obsessive passion as any “newbie” will tell you. Once the passion strikes it is only a matter of time before the new grower stumbles across obscure references to the grafting of African violet leaves.
Grafting leaves was the hopeful quest of early African violet hybridizers looking for new and unusual gene combinations. Many books published in the 1950s mention this method — a time when hybridizing African violets was still a young field and little was known about their genetic makeup. It was then hypothesized that if leaves of two different African violet varieties were grafted together and then planted the resultant offspring would contain genes from both parent plants. As in cross-pollination, the hybridizers hoped for new and unusual gene combinations through this method of propagation. Leaf grafting proved disappointing, however.
Grafting African Violet Leaves: Myth vs. Reality
Fast-forward to the present: We now know much more about African violet genetics thanks to many years of hybridizing trial and error and, more importantly, the research of experts such as Jeff Smith, Ph.D., the leading authority on African violet genetics. The reality: If two leaves are grafted together it is expected that the offspring will carry and exhibit the gene traits of either parent (one or the other) depending upon the plant cells from which each plantlet develops.
For the sake of posterity, here is the technique outlined in several African violet and gesneriad books from the 1950s (due to discrepancies we’ve added our notes in parentheses):
» Choose leaves from two varieties with similar qualities. (One book states that the plants must have similar qualities; another states that it’s important that the leaves have similar qualities; yet a third book contains an illustration of a girl leaf grafted to a boy leaf. If you are going to attempt grafting we recommend that you choose leaves from two varieties that you would like to propagate and see what grows.)
»When cutting the leaves from the parent plants make sure the petioles are at least 1-1/2 inches long. (Each leaf stem should be about an inch and a half long, or about 4 cm.)
»Make a 1-inch cut (approx. 2.5 cm) down the front of the first petiole taking care not to cut all the way through. Do the same on the back of the second leaf petiole. (The cut should terminate at the end of the stem.)
»The leaves should be grafted together front to back. (The leaves should be nested like spoons.) Hold the leaves together and fit the petiole cuts into each other — the inside flesh of one petiole must make contact with the inside flesh of the second. Once aligned, tape the leaves together securely with transparent tape. Strike the leaf as you would any other leaf using your usual propagation method and medium. (Be sure to leave enough of the bottom end of the stems exposed to ensure rooting.)