Related to African violets (Saintpaulia), these low-growing natives of tropical America are popular chiefly for their striking foliage: oval, velvety, beautifully colored leaves to 25 in. long, 13 in. wide. They bloom sporadically throughout the year, bearing tubular, 2-in.-long flowers in shades of red, pink, orange, yellow, lavender, or white. Plants spread by runners that form new plants at their tips, a trait that makes them excellent candidates for hanging baskets or strawberry pots.
Many different selections are available, including the following.
'Alice's Aussie'. Foliage in shimmering pink and chocolate-brown. Orange-red flowers.
'Chocolate Soldier'. Chocolate-brown leaves with silver veins. Orange-red blooms.
'Kee Wee'. Chocolate-brown leaves prominently veined in deep pink. Orange-red flowers.
'Metallica'. Olive-green leaves with red edges. Bright red flowers.
'Pink Brocade'. Leaves marked in white and brown, with pink edges. Flowers are red-orange.
'Pink Panther'. Chocolate-brown leaves with central pattern of lime-green. Fuchsia-pink blooms.
'Silver Sheen'. Crinkled leaves are silver and green, with coppery margins. Deep red flowers.
Flame violets are among the most cold-sensitive plants in this book. They sulk when the temperature drops to 60F and die if it dips much below 50F. Yet they don't like temperatures much above 80F either. You can take potted plants outdoors to a lightly shaded spot when the temperature is just right, but most people grow them as houseplants.
Indoors, they need morning sun to retain their foliage color and compact form, but hot midday or afternoon sun will burn their leaves. You can grow them under fluorescent lights left on at least 12 hours a day. Let the soil go slightly dry between waterings. Use room-temperature waternever cold water. Feed every other week in spring and summer and monthly during fall and winter with a general-purpose liquid houseplant fertilizer diluted to half-strength. Check plants periodically for mealybugs; if you see them, wipe them off with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol.