Grow & Care for Flame Violet Like a Pro

Flame Violet, or Episcia cupreata, is a small understory perennial native to the tropics and subtropics of Central America and northern South America.

Like its cousins in the Gesneriad family, such as African Violets, Lipstick Plants, Gloxinias, and Cape Primroses, it makes a beautiful little houseplant that is non-toxic and perfectly safe for people and pets.

History of Flame Violets

Image Credit: Author/Nancy Maffia

Flame Violets, sometimes called Chocolate Soldiers, were first spotted in Brazil by an Austrian botanist, Charles Philip von Martinus, in about 1820. He published his findings, but they weren’t widely recognized.

Then, in 1847, a botanical collector from Kew Gardens, W.M. Purdie, saw them in Colombia and realized they were a species new to science. They quickly spread into the garden industry in Europe and England due to their glistening, colored leaves and bright flowers.

Flame Violets were first named Achimenes cupreata by the English botanist William Hooker in 1947. A German botanist, Johannes von Hanstein, later named them Episcia, which means shaded in Greek, referring to its natural habitat.

There are about nine natural species of Episcia. Still, most of the cultivated Flame Violets are hybrids of E. cupreata and E. reptans, and the purple-flowered cultivars include genes from E. lilacina.

What Do They Look Like?

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Like African Violets, Flame Violets grow from the center of a rosette and come in many varieties with unusual leaf markings and bloom colors. They are mainly grown as foliage plants for their appealing wrinkled, ovate, scalloped leaves with shimmering silver, green, maroon, pink, or copper variegations and vein colors.

Their tubular, 4- to 5-petalled flowers, which can be red, red-orange, pink, yellow, or lavender, add a splash of color to the variegated metallic-colored foliage.

Like strawberries, Flame Violets are trailing plants that put out stolons (runners) with baby offsets at the ends that will root. Their trailing habit makes them excellent houseplants in hanging baskets or as spreading ground covers outside in warm climates.

Episcia cupreata, one of the first recognized species, is green in the center of the leaves with brownish-purple around the edges and purple undersides and grows 8″ to 12″ high and 1′ to 2′ wide. Its tubular flowers are bright, neon red-orange that bloom in spring and summer.

Below are some cultivars of mixed parentage with unique variegations and bloom colors:

  • ‘Silver Skies’ – light silvery-green leaves with maroon borders and red flowers.
  • ‘Metallica’ – green leaves and veins with a dark overlay of metallic coppery-green and red flowers.
  • ‘Pink Panther’ – light green central leaf pattern edged in dark bronze with large, pink flowers.
  • ‘Spearmint’ – light green leaves with silver markings in the center and red-orange flowers.
  • ‘Blue Waters’ – brownish-green leaves with light green centers and lavender flowers.
  • ‘Chocolate Cream’ – brown foliage with a pink overlay and bright red flowers.
  • ‘Pink Dreams’ – light green and white leaves edged in pink with deep pink flowers.

How to Care for Flame Violets

Image Credit: Author/Nancy Maffia

Flame Violets’ colorful leaves and bright flowers make them delightful plants to grow and display. But like African Violets, they are sensitive and are excellent plants for experienced indoor gardeners.

Here are some tips on how to care for your beautiful Flame Violet.

Light

Flame Violets grow as tropical understory plants that receive filtered light through the trees above. As houseplants, they need plenty of indirect light rather than direct sun, which can scorch their leaves.

 A bright east- or north-facing window is perfect. If you don’t have that exposure available, set your plant back a couple of feet from a west- or south-facing window or hang a gauzy curtain to soften the light.

Artificial fluorescent lights work well, too, for Flame Violets. Since grow lights are usually less intense than the sun, allow them to bask in the light for 12 hours. I have mine under a grow light, and it’s happily blooming.

Outdoors, you can put your plant under a bright porch, patio, or tree, and if you live in USDA zones 10-12, Flame Violets will grow well for you as groundcovers in a shady to partially shady area.

Temperature

The ideal temperatures for Flame Violets to grow, bloom, and thrive are between 70 and 80 degrees F, like those in their native tropical habitat. They are sensitive to heat and cold, so temperatures outside their comfort zone can stunt their growth and cause them to fail to bloom and thrive.

Heating and air conditioner vents and drafty windows that produce uneven temperatures can kill your plant. It’s best to keep it in a spot with steady, even temperatures. 

Humidity

The humidity around Flame Violets needs to be 50% or above. Since this is higher than in most households, you’ll need to augment the humidity for them to be happy. Low humidity can cause the edges of the leaves to curl and turn brown.

You can boost the humidity by using a pebble tray with water as long as the pot sits above the water line so it won’t constantly soak up water and keep the roots wet. Humidifiers are helpful, too, but misting is not recommended.

These humidity lovers are also perfect candidates for terrariums where the humidity is high.

Soil

They need slightly acidic, well-draining, aerated soil like that for African violets. Commercial African Violet potting mix is readily available online or at a garden center, or you can make your own with equal parts of perlite, vermiculite, and peat moss.

Pot

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Flame Violets’ roots grow near the surface, so they do best in wide, shallow pots. Small plants do well in 2″ to 4″ pots, but they can grow much larger and will need 8″ or 10 ” pots.

Any material, such as plastic, ceramic, terracotta, or composite, will do fine as long as it has at least one hole in the bottom so it can drain effectively and keep the soil from becoming saturated.

Water

Flame Violets are sensitive to water temperature and over- and underwatering, so watering your plant correctly is crucial to its success.

When to Water

The soil shouldn’t be allowed to dry out or become waterlogged. Feel the top of the soil, and if it’s dry to the touch and springs back when you press down on it, it’s time to give your plant a drink.

But if it is still moist and feels solid when you press it, give it a few more days and test it again.

How to Water

Flame Violets can develop necrotic spots when water sits on their leaves, so always bottom water your plant and don’t mist their foliage. Set the pot in a dish of water for 30 minutes and allow the soil to soak up the water.

Then, empty the remaining water from the dish and allow the pot to drain.

Type of Water

Flame Violets are sensitive to heat and cold, so only use lukewarm or room-temperature water when it needs a drink.

They are also sensitive to the minerals, such as chlorine, in tap water, which can cause their leaves to turn brown and the plant to wilt. Rainwater, distilled, or reverse osmosis water don’t contain the same harmful minerals and are healthier for your plant.

Distilled water is expensive over time, and you need equipment to produce reverse osmosis water. But rainwater is free and is an excellent choice for watering your houseplants.

I collect it in jugs and store it for us on all my houseplants. During dry periods with no rain, I let a pitcher of tap water stand open overnight so that the chlorine can evaporate. It’s not as good as rainwater, but it’s a healthier alternative to plain tap water.

PRO TIP: Episcia experts say that the plants will grow best if you repot them once every six to twelve months to eliminate salt buildup from bottom watering.

Fertilizer

Flame Violets do best with the same fertilizer as African Violets. Use a balanced houseplant fertilizer, or one specifically formulated for African Violets. It is good to use half the recommended strength of any kind you use to prevent fertilizer burn and overgrowth of the foliage with fewer blooms.

Pruning

Your plant will not need much pruning except to snip off dead leaves and flowers to encourage blooming. When the plant matures enough to send out runners, you can remove or replant them.

Pests

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Aphids, mealybugs, and cyclamen mites are the main pests of Flame Violets, and they are reasonably easy to control.

Aphids are tiny green or black, pear-shaped insects that suck plant juices out of stems and leaves, causing distorted, stunted growth. They also produce honeydew, a sticky substance that invites mold to grow on the plant.

Aphids can be effectively controlled with an insecticidal soap or Neem oil spray. If you have a bad infestation, you may have to repeat the treatment until the pests are gone.

Mealybugs are small insects in the Scale family that suck plant juices, causing wilted, distorted leaves, especially on the undersides of new growth. Male mealybugs can fly, but the females are slow-moving, cottony insects that are easy to see.

You can control these bugs by picking most of them off with tweezers and then spraying them with insecticidal soap, Neem oil, or a 3:1 solution of water and 92% isopropyl alcohol with two tablespoons of Dawn dish detergent stirred in.

Cyclamen mites are orangy-pink, eight-legged pests that are so tiny they aren’t visible to the naked eye. They thrive in warm, humid air and hide from the light under the flowers and leaves. They suck plant juices and cause distorted, curling foliage that can become crispy and brown, wilted flowers, and buds that fail to open.

You can control Cyclamen mites by submerging the plant and pot in 113-degree F water for 15 minutes. The water won’t harm the plant and will get rid of the mites. As an alternative, you can spray the whole plant with Neem oil.

Diseases

Several fungal diseases cause crown rot and root rot that can plague Flame Violets when their soil remains soggy after they’re overwatered.

Root rot causes the leaves to wilt and become yellow. It can be controlled by cutting out the black, infected roots and treating the remaining ones with a fungicide like Neem oil. If you use the same pot to replant your Flame Violet, disinfect it with alcohol and replace the soil with fresh potting mix.

Crown rot is usually fatal for the plant. The crown and stems appear water-soaked and will blacken and die. If this is the case, it’s best to discard the plant.

However, if it’s in the early stages of crown rot, you may be able to save your plant. Cut the crown off above the infected tissue and dust it with sulfur to kill the fungus. Then, dip it in rooting hormone and replant it in a clean pot in a fresh mixture of peat, vermiculite, and perlite. It should begin to root in a month.

Propagation

You can propagate Flame Violets in four ways:

  1. By a leaf cutting in water
  2. By a leaf cutting in soil or peat moss
  3. By a stolon attached to the mother plant
  4. By a stolon separated from the mother plant    

Leaf cuttings are the quickest way to propagate your plant since you will have to wait for the Flame Violet to be mature to produce offsets that you can use.

1. Leaf Cutting in Water

  • With clean scissors or a knife, snip off a healthy, robust bottom leaf where the stem attaches to the crown.
  • Submerge the stem in a glass of water.
  • Change the water every few days to prevent algae from growing, and roots should form in about a month.

2. Leaf cutting in Soil or Peat Moss

  • With clean scissors or a knife, snip off a healthy, robust bottom leaf where the stem attaches to the crown.
  • Dip the tip of the leaf stem in rooting hormone (optional).
  • Stick the end of the stem in a light potting mix with a high percentage of perlite or moist peat moss.
  • Water the soil and fit a plastic bag over the pot to keep it moist and increase the humidity.
  • It should root in a couple of months.

3. Stolon Attached to the Mother Plant

  • If your pot is large enough, you can set one of the baby offsets on the soil next to the mother plant and secure the stolon to the soil.
  • Alternatively, you can set an offset on the soil of a separate pot next to the main plant with the stolon still attached.
  • Water the soil
  • Fit a plastic bag over the pot to keep it moist and increase the humidity.

4. Stolon Separated From the Mother Plant

  • Another method is to separate the offset from the mother plant by snipping off the stolon at both ends, leaving the offset separate.  
  • Set the baby plant on the soil of another smaller pot, water the soil, and wait for it to root.·         Fit a plastic bag over the pot to keep it moist and increase the humidity.
Author & Editor | + posts

Nancy has been a plant person from an early age. That interest blossomed into a bachelor’s in biology from Elmira College and a master’s degree in horticulture and communications from the University of Kentucky. Nancy worked in plant taxonomy at the University of Florida and the L. H. Bailey Hortorium at Cornell University, and wrote and edited gardening books at Rodale Press in Emmaus, PA. Her interests are plant identification, gardening, hiking, and reading.