If African violets are your plant fancy, you can create even fancier ones at home with hybridization techniques that are not difficult for the layman. Start with two blooming plants that have the characteristics you like in flower color, size, and shape. You also might want to consider leaf color and shape while making your choice.
The first step is to take the little yellow pollen sac from the plant center, break it up with your fingernail, and touch it to the stigma of another plant. The stigma tip is sticky, so it only takes a light touch to make the pollen adhere.
You now have a 6- to 9-month wait for the seed pod to ripen. The ovary will be extremely large, swelling as the plant stem starts to dry up.
At this point, lift the stem off the plant with the ovary attached and place it in a small clear plastic container with a clear sliding lid. A fishhook box is perfect for this purpose. Label the container with the date and names of the parent plants. In this setting the seed-containing ovary is viable for up to 6 months.
When you have space and time to nurture the possible 200 to 600 resulting seedlings, take the seed pod, which is now hard, and break it open. Sprinkle the pepper-grain-size seeds on a folded-in-half sheet of white paper, being very careful as you do so.
You must breathe softly near the seeds, or they'll be gone.
Since the tiny seeds will also stick to your hands, use the piece of paper to sprinkle them on the surface of your growing medium. Some professional growers prefer a mixture of two-thirds commercial pH-guaranteed potting soil and one-third ground Styrofoam and charcoal, but you can get satisfactory results with commercially available African violet soil as well.
No complicated container is needed to hold the seedlings, which will be initially content in cottage cheese or liver tubs with intact transparent lids. Just sprinkle the uncovered seeds with enough hot plain water to moisten the soil; then replace the transparent cover.
Put each tub in a warm place with the preferred temperature being at least 80 degrees F. Then watch for signs of growth in the miniature greenhouses.
In two to three weeks, very tiny green specks will appear. These will reach one-half inch in size in approximately two to three months and be ready to transplant. The ideal new container is something very similar to one-ounce plastic cups. You should make two small drainage holes in the base of each cup and fill with a soil mixture similar to that used before. Move the seedlings in small clumps to protect their fragile new root system.
For humidity control, the one-ounce cups are best placed in something like a large transparent sweater box which will again function as a greenhouse. Spray daily with warm water, but don't overwater, a major problem with beginning hybridizers.
Keep your plants out of direct sunlight until the leaves are dry; otherwise they will become brown spotted.
In four to six weeks transplant the seedlings individually to plastic three-ounce cups that also have two small drainage holes poked in the bottom. The young plants will now stay here until they bloom.
Bloom time can bring surprises to those who aren't familiar with African violet genetics. These beautiful plants have been heavily hybridized for so many years, the original forms being pale blue to purple, that many of your new blossoms may not look like the parent plants at all.
What this means is the possibility of creating your own new variety, but it requires a detailed study of what's already been done. If you're interested in going on to further ''fancy plant'' steps, start with your local public library, plus possible membership ($9 a year) in the African Violet Society of America Inc., PO Box 1326, Knoxville, Tenn. 37901.
You can also request information from local chapters of the society, most of which hold regular meetings.