How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Flame Violets
Flame violets are a beautiful relative of African violets that make excellent houseplants for the experienced gardener. In this article, learn how to grow and care for these attractive flowering perennials.
If you have a knack for African violets, you will love Episcias or flame violets. These pretty little plants in the same family as African violets have similar characteristics and offer a ton of color and personality. Let’s look at these little beauties and discuss how to cultivate them.
Plant Type Herbaceous perennials
Species about 10
Native Areas Tropical Central and South America
Exposure Bright indirect light
Watering Requirements Moderate
Pests and Diseases Aphids, Mealybugs, Fungal Leaf Spots, Stem Blight, Root Rot
Soil Type Rich and well-draining
Soil pH Neutral (6.5-7.5)
These small tropical plants can be finicky if they don’t get care consistent with their native environment. Fortunately, that can be replicated in the home, making flame violets a good houseplant. They also make excellent terrarium plants. The Episcias genus is a member of the Gesneriaceae family, including African violets, Gloxinias, and one of my favorite plants, Michelmolleria vietnamensis.
Most members of this family are tropical to sub-tropical evergreen and perennial flowering plants. A few members extend to more temperate ranges. It is common for plants in this family to be cultivated as ornamentals because of their relative ease of care and colorful flowers.
The name of the genus is derived from a Greek word meaning ‘shaded.’ It is likely due to their growth habit as tropical understory plants, as Episcias do not like direct sun and prefer their sunlight filtered through a canopy in a lush, tropical environment.
All ten species of the Episcias genus are native to tropical regions in South and Central America. They were first discovered in Brazil and Colombia, but we now know they are also native to southern Mexico, French Guiana, and the West Indies.
These plants are all native to warm regions, which should be reflected in their care for best results. These plants like consistently warm temperatures across the board.
Flame violets are very similar in terms of physical characteristics to African violets. They share a similar leaf shape, which is ovate to elliptical. Also similar is the soft flocking on the surface of the leaves. However, these houseplants have a unique ribbed texture to their leaves, creating a lovely, shimmering effect.
The leaves are arranged in rosettes, like African violets, but they have a trailing habit rather than growing continuously taller. This makes them very easy to propagate, as they continuously produce offsets on long stems. The foliage is usually variegated and comes in green, pink, red, and white shades.
The flowers produced by flame violet plants are typically singular, small, and tubular. In terms of color, they tend toward the warm end of the spectrum. The most common colors are red and bright pink, but they can also produce flowers in yellow, white, orange, and purple shades.
Where to Buy
Flame violets can be easily found through online vendors. They may not be as readily available among retailers and local nurseries. Some of the larger nurseries may have them available for purchase.
Because they grow in a fairly specific environment and are not tolerant of climate fluctuations, most are kept as houseplants. If you are planting in a tropical climate, consider the plant’s needs when choosing a location.
Since they are understory plants, giving them something of a canopy to grow beneath is best. They should be planted in loose soil with a neutral pH and excellent drainage.
Do not plant them deeply; instead, dig a hole that is as deep and twice as wide as the root ball. The root ball should be level with the surrounding soil.
How to Grow
Flame violets can be a bit trickier than their cousins, African violets. However, once you know their needs, they shouldn’t be more difficult to care for. They are moderately high maintenance in that they must be protected from environmental fluctuations, and proper seasonal care is important.
As I mentioned, flame violets are an understory plant. They grow beneath the tropical canopy, where their environment is fairly consistent and the light is indirect. If you are skilled at caring for orchids, these plants have similar exposure needs.
Give them bright but indirect light for most of the day. They can thrive in artificial light if they get a consistent amount. If you are growing them indoors, away from a window, keep them under fluorescent lights for 12-14 hours per day.
If you place your flame violet in a window, ensure it doesn’t receive more than an hour or two of direct sunlight daily. Too much sun will scorch the leaves, and they will turn brown and wilt. If they don’t get adequate light, they will become leggier, with more stems between leaves as though they are reaching for the light.
Watering will depend on where your plant is located, and there is no hard and fast rule for how much water your flame violet will need and after how many days. These plants need similar moisture conditions to African violets.
Flame violets like their soil to be moist all of the time. However, they don’t like for their soil to be soggy. This is one of the fine balances that must be struck for these plants to thrive. Whether or not your container has drainage holes will also affect how often your flame violet needs to be watered.
In general, expect to water once weekly in the summer. They will use much more water during the summer when they do much of their growing and blooming. They will use less water in the winter, so they must be watered less often. Pay attention to the soil and water when the top of the soil is no longer moist, but don’t allow the soil to dry out farther down.
A very important factor in watering these plants is the temperature of the water. Temperature fluctuations cause stress on this plant. Use room temperature water. If you have the time to collect rainwater, that is the best water for these plants.
I keep my violets in containers with and without drainage, and for me, the pots without drainage tend to be easier to care for. It comes down to your habits where watering is concerned.
If you tend to overwater your plants, go with a container with good drainage. If you let things dry out, a container without drainage might be best.
Flame violets have shallow, spreading roots. Naturally, a wide, shallow pot would support this growth habit well. They do like to be slightly pot-bound, which will encourage more flowering. Don’t give your plant a pot much larger than the root ball. Rather, give it a small amount of room to grow, maybe sizing up 2” from the size of the nursery pot.
For soil type, think along the same lines as African violets. Flame violets like rich soil that is somewhat spongy and well-draining. The soil needs to hold some moisture, so sandy soil is no good, but steer away from soil that compacts easily. They have delicate roots.
You can use a standard potting mix for these plants. Amending the soil with perlite or peat moss will help maintain good drainage and keep the soil loose, which is good for strong root development.
Flame violets are not especially picky about soil acidity but will perform best in soil with a neutral pH. Aim for a pH between 6.5-7.5 to keep your plants happy.
Temperature and Humidity
This is a very important factor in the care of flame violets. These are likely factors that make or break your relationship with these plants. It is vital to the plant’s health that it doesn’t experience extreme temperature shifts and receives a fair amount of humidity.
The ideal air temperature is between 70-80°F. That is great news for most of us in temperate climates, where we keep our thermostats in that range for most of the year. Where this can get tricky is in climates that endure very cold winters. If the temperature in your home fluctuates drastically, it will stress the plant.
Keep your flame violet farther from windows and doors in the winter. They need less light and water during winter and will survive a few months with less sunlight. Just make sure to compensate with some fluorescent light if the plant shows signs that it needs more light.
If the temperature in your home regularly drops below 65°F, you may have a hard time with this plant. At that temperature, the edges of the leaves may turn brown to signify that the plant is under stress from cold temperatures.
They also need a fair amount of humidity. An ambient humidity level of 50% or higher is the preferred environment. You can supplement the humidity in the room with a humidifier placed far enough from the plant that the leaves aren’t in direct range. You can also use a pebble tray to add moisture to the air.
Resist the urge to mist these plants, as they do not like water sitting on their leaves. Like most flowers in this family, water sitting on the flocked leaves can lead to ugly yellow water spots. I keep my violets in the bathroom with my orchids. If you have a good spot for plants in your bathroom, this tends to be the most humid room in the house.
These are similar to African violets regarding their fertilizer needs. They like to be fertilized and will benefit from African violet fertilizer formulas. If you are using an all-purpose fertilizer, look for one that is balanced, with a 20-20-20 ratio, or ideally, one with a slightly higher level of phosphorus, such as a 15-20-15.
Fertilize every two weeks, beginning in the spring and throughout the summer into fall. As the weather cools, you will notice that your plant takes in less water and needs less fertilizer. Reduce your fertilizing to once per month, if at all, during the winter months.
If your environment is right, you shouldn’t have a terrible amount of maintenance with this plant. You can repot it every one to two years to give it space to spread but remember only to size up a little bit to keep your plant flowering its best.
Pruning is typically unnecessary, but if the plant overgrows the space you have given it, simply pinch back stems. Pruning lightly after the plant completes its blooming stage will encourage it to flower again more quickly.
Like most of their relatives, flame violets are easy to propagate. Propagation can be carried out using seeds, but this is less common as it takes much longer for the plant to mature. They are often cultivated using leaf and stem cuttings or runners that the plant produces.
Propagating flame violets by cuttings is a simple process. Spring is the ideal time to take cuttings, as the plant is entering its active growing phase, so your cutting will have the optimum amount of time to get itself growing before winter.
Take your cuttings from healthy leaves near the base of the plant. I like to cut the leaf with as much of its stem attached as possible. Cut the petiole close to the main stem, and dip the cut end in a rooting hormone. Rooting hormone is optional; while your cuttings will likely be successful without it, using it will make the process go faster.
Place the cutting with its cut end down into your rooting media. These plants can be rooted in water, soil, or sphagnum moss. I prefer to use water as I feel like it works fastest and because I like seeing the root development. Leave the cutting in water until it develops roots and small leaves.
Once the cutting has rooted, plant it in a small container with a moist potting medium. Leave the main left attached until the small leaves grow more substantial to give the new plant some added nutrients and space to produce chlorophyll.
Propagation with runners is easy, and the plant does the heavy lifting here. The only caveat is that you have to wait for the plant to decide if it wants to produce more plants to achieve it. Occasionally, a flame violet will send out a runner, or long stem, at the end of which a new rosette of leaves begins to develop.
To propagate using one of these runners, there are two possible methods. The first is to bury part of the elongated stem of the runner right at a leaf joint; if this is done, the stem will put out new roots under the cluster of leaves, anchoring into the soil. Once it has developed roots, cut it free from its parent plant.
In the other method, you can treat it as a normal cutting. To do this, remove the runner, leaving a portion of the stem attached. From here, the methods are much the same as propagation by cutting. You can place the end of your cut stem in water, moist soil, or sphagnum moss.
Rooting hormone, again, is helpful but not required. Your runner should develop some roots within a month or two.
The most common issues with growing this plant are related to climate and care. As I mentioned before, flame violets are very sensitive to temperature fluctuations. That includes both the air temperature and the temperature of the water you give them.
They will indicate when they are unhappy, mostly in their leaves. If the plant is stressed from cold temperatures, you may begin to see brown edges cropping up on your leaves. Make sure the plant is not in a draft space and that you are not watering with cold water.
If the plant refuses to bloom, there are two potential culprits. Either the plant isn’t getting enough light or fertilizer. If your plant has gone an entire year without blooming, it may need more light. Just make sure to keep it out of direct sunlight. Fertilize regularly from spring to fall, and use a fertilizer with extra phosphorus for better bud development.
There is an abundance of hybrid varieties of flame violet, each combining beautiful leaf patterns and brightly colored flowers. The plant structures are all relatively similar, with leaves forming rosettes and a trailing habit rather than a tendency to grow upward like some of its related plants.
|botanical name Episcia cupreata ‘Chocolate Soldier’|
|sun requirements Bright indirect light|
‘Chocolate Soldier’ has blue-green leaves with dark markings toward the outer edges of its highly textured leaves. The dark markings can have a red or purple tint or a deeper blue-green shade. The flowers of this variety are brilliant red or orange.
|botanical name Episcia cupreata var. viridifolia ‘Tropical Topaz’|
|sun requirements Bright indirect light|
It is unusual for plants in the Gesneriaceae family to have yellow flowers, so ‘Tropical Topaz’ is a standout of its genus and plant family. It is not a big bloomer but produces a sprinkling of buttery yellow blooms. The foliage is a bright, cheerful green that looks great in a hanging basket.
|botanical name Episcia hybrid ‘Bethlehem Pink’|
|sun requirements Bright indirect light|
This hybrid of the popular variety ‘Bethlehem Pink’ is simply stunning. Deep olive green leaves are heavily textured and flocked with fine, soft hairs. The flowers are a beautiful soft pink with a warm yellow glow in the center.
Jim’s Canadian Sunset
|botanical name Episcia hybrid ‘Jim’s Canadian Sunset’|
|sun requirements Bright indirect light|
Another pretty pink flame violet hybrid is ‘Jim’s Canadian Sunset.’ The deep green leaves of this variety are heavily textured and flocked like most of its contemporaries. ‘Jim’s Canadian Sunset’ flowers definitely hint at the beauty of a true Canadian sunset! The coral pink flowers have textured edges and are heavily veined with a deeper shade of pink and flecked with bits of yellow in the center.
The pests that cause the most worry with these plants are not typically an issue indoors unless they travel in on another plant. Inspecting any new houseplants for insect damage before introducing them is a good practice. This will significantly cut back on pest issues.
Aphids are one of the most prevalent and destructive pests in the garden. They are not difficult to eliminate, but with all pests, the sooner you catch them, the less damage they will have time to do.
These small green and yellow bugs like to get under leaves and on flame violet’s juicy stems and suck out the sweet sap. They leave behind a sticky, sweet excrement called honeydew that attracts ants, fosters mold, and interferes with photosynthesis.
A strong stream of water can get rid of aphids in many cases. However, flame violets have delicate stems, so I don’t recommend it. A gentle wiping with a water-soaked cotton ball is a great combatant against these pests. Neem oil or insecticidal soap are also good alternatives.
These nasty little bugs can make a serious mess of your houseplants if they enter your home. Fortunately, they are easy to identify. They are fairly visible and can easily be taken care of. Problems arise when adults burrow down into hard-to-reach places and lay eggs.
Mealybugs look white to light pink and fuzzy. They are often covered with a waxy coating, making them more difficult to kill. An alcohol-soaked cotton swab will help to break down that waxy coating and kill these critters. Neem oil works as well.
Most of the disease issues that appear involve fungus. Because of the high moisture environment that they prefer, there is plenty of opportunity for fungus to grow, which will result in a damaged or rotting plant.
Fungal Leaf Spots
When water droplets sit on the leaves of a flame violet, they can leave unsightly yellow spots. These spots are more susceptible to fungus, and in a humid environment, if that fungus finds a way in, it has the perfect environment to grow in.
You can prevent this by not splashing water on your flame violet’s leaves. Dry any water that lands on the leaves gently. If you notice a fungal leaf spot on one of your leaves, prune it off to protect the other leaves and allow the plant to recover.
Stem blight is another fungal disease that, while less common, can still affect your flame violet. The humid environment these plants enjoy makes them more susceptible to fungal pathogens. Keep the air circulating in the room with your plants to help deter these fungal infections from gaining a foothold. Prune off any affected tissue to avoid spreading.
Root rot is nearly always caused by overwatering. Since flame violets like a lot of moisture in the air and their soil, it’s easy to overwater them, and if that happens, they are vulnerable to root rot. Giving your plant soil with good drainage and only watering when the top of the soil is dry to the touch will go a long way in preventing root rot.
As we discussed regarding containers, if you are a gardener that leans toward over rather than underwatering, a container with a drainage hole is a great tool for preventing root rot. If you suspect your plant has rotting roots, repot the plant in fresh soil after removing any rotten roots with sterile pruning snips.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why are my flame violet’s leaves turning brown?
This can be caused by a few factors, but they all involve a lack of moisture or too much sun. Flame violets are sensitive to direct sunlight, and the leaves will scorch with too much sun. A lack of humidity or water can also lead to dry, crispy leaves. Shock from temperature fluctuations can also cause leaves to turn brown.
Why is my flame violet droopy?
Flame violets and most other plants in the Gesneriaceae family need moist soil to thrive. If these plants dry out completely, they will respond by wilting. Usually, this shows in the lowest leaves first.
What kind of water is best for my flame violet?
Filtered water, reverse osmosis, or rainwater are the best for watering your flame violet. Harsh chemicals in some tap water can weaken the plant. Ensure the water is room temperature to avoid shock.
Are eggshells good for my flame violet?
This is a bit complicated, but in short: yes and no.
Calcium can sometimes be bloom booster for your flame violet. However, eggshells are nearly pure calcium carbonate, and they do not break down well in a non-acidic environment. While some recommend soaking eggshells in water, this does not actually cause the eggshells to break down enough to provide a calcium boost, and most potting blends are pH neutral, making eggshells at best a slow-release calcium additive and at worst locking them in the soil.
If you truly want to provide a calcium boost, soluble calcium is available as an organic liquid fertilizer, but use it sparingly and wait to see how your plant reacts before adding any more. Your plant is more likely to need phosphorus for good flower production than the micronutrient calcium, and it should be receiving it via your other fertilization methods.
Can I overwater my flame violet?
Yes. They like moist soil, but if you leave them with sopping wet soil for an extended time, you risk a fungal root rot killing your plant. Proper drainage in your soil and container can help to prevent overwatering.
From their fancy, flocked leaves to their bright and cheerful flowers, flame violets make wonderful additions to the houseplant collection. While they do take a bit of pampering, once you get the hang of flame violet care, you will surely be hooked by these enchanting little plants.