Q&A – What Makes an African Violet a Trailer?

Christine asks Annie:

Q Hi Annie,

What makes an African violet a trailer and not just an African violet with suckers? Is it just that trailers do well with multiple crowns while others do not?

For example, if I were to buy an unlabeled plant and had no idea it was a trailer is there some way for me to figure that out? Otherwise I would be taking all the suckers off.

A Hi Christine!

This is a great question! My initial thought was to tell you that there must have been a trailing species in the plant’s history – but I went to the experts on this one. Here’s the most important answer: Internode spacing is always the primary indicator of trailing genetics. See the spacing on the stems in this photo? That’s your clue.

The stem of a trailing African violet showing the spacing of the leaves
The stem of a trailing African violet showing the spacing of the leaves

Here are the details – first from Joyce:

From Joyce:

“For show purposes, a trailer is a trailer only if the hybridizer has declared it to be so. Show growers must rely on the official description. A grower with a no-identification plant is welcome to grow the plant in any way he would like and no one will argue. Perhaps then the better question is why would a hybridizer recognize one seedling as a trailer and another as undesirable because it tended to sucker? Trailers must make suckers to develop a nice overall form, but it is the space between the leaf nodes (the place where each leaf attaches to the main stem) which allows a trailer to extend itself into a trailing form. A single crown plant will stack the leaves in a tight formation with compact leaf internode spacing when it is grown in adequate light (enough to allow it to bloom.) A trailer in the same light will space those leaves visibly apart with a loose internode spacing and will also bloom. As a general rule, most violets on the retail market are single-crown plants. It would be an extremely rare find to see a trailer offered for sale in a bigbox store. So when buying unnamed hybrids in retail stores, generally, one should remove the suckers because that will encourage more flowering.”

And then, from Dr. Jeff:

“It’s a good question. The big box stores don’t sell trailers (or not that I’ve ever seen) so that would take care of an African violet coming from that source. The trailing habit is usually bred into the plant from one of the species. S. grotei (Streptocarpus ionanthus subspecies grotei) is the most likely parent although S. magungensis and S. mangungensis var. minima have also been used. A good trailer will have elongated internodes on the stem. That’s the spaces between where the leaves are attached. The usual rosette violets lack any spacing from one leave to the next. Trailers should have a little bit of space. I would be the first to admit that it’s often hard to tell the difference between a bush type trailer and a plant with suckers. For some plants, there probably isn’t really any difference.”

Christine, I hope this helps!