Questions on: Violets
Ron Smith, Horticulturist, NDSU Extension Service
Q: I have a local resident that has a question about her African violets. She transplanted them back in December 2005. Since then, the plant has not bloomed. She now has a few blooms on a couple of plants. She switched from well water to rain and snow water. While using well water, a crusty, white residue was appearing on the bottom of the pots. She is so frustrated that she admits to throwing away some of the plants. She is seeking your help before she throws all the plants out the door. (Griggs County, N.D.)
A: She should not have used well water. African violets are raised on pure rainwater in their native setting, so she should stick to the rain or snow water to get the plants blooming again. She also needs a dose of patience. Blooming, which is the reproductive cycle of any plant, requires stored energy. Insufficient energy equals poor or no blooms. When they get to that point of sufficient energy and mild stress, they will bloom. African violets should not be thrown out the door, especially in North Dakota!
Q: I have African violets that are doing well, but a few leaves are losing color and becoming white. There are no insect infestations and I do not think it is a fungus or mold. This has happened once before, but it went away. I would like to find out what causes the problem because the plants are very unattractive during this period. (e-mail reference)
A: If it is not powdery mildew, then I don't know what the affliction could be. This usually is brought on by stagnant air and high humidity.
Q: I have some cuttings from an African violet plant. Should I stick the cuttings in the soil or lay them on top and then cover them with soil? (e-mail reference)
A: One of the easiest ways to root African violets is to stick the leaf petiole into a media that is 50/50 sand and sphagnum peat moss. If you lay the leaf on the surface, notch the veins with a knife and make sure the cut is in direct contact with the surface
Q: I have a problem with one of my African violets. It is a large, double pink violet. It has white spots on the leaves. It is not in direct sunlight and I don’t get water on it when I water. I have 12 other violets (different varieties) that don’t have this problem. Can you help me? (Garrison, N.D.)
A: If it bothers you, move the plant away from the direct sunlight and snip off the affected foliage. I don't believe it to be a disease, just a reaction to the direct sunlight.
Q: I have been caring for a violet plant for about three months for the first time in my life. I love its looks, but have heard how difficult they are to grow. The plant has grown quite large, so I decided to transplant it. While transplanting, I snapped the neck between the leaves and the roots. I left it in the soil, hoping it won’t die. Is there anything I can do to save the plant? It is a beautiful plant, so I hope I did not kill it. (e-mail reference)
A: Take some of the leaves and root them. The crown also should root for you. For plant propagation information, go to my Web site at www.ext.nodak.edu/extpubs/plantsci/landscap/h1257.pdf. By the way, these plants don't deserve the reputation they have of being difficult to grow, so don't let that scare you!
Q: I enjoy reading your weekly columns. Several years ago, violets started growing in my yard. I sprayed them with 2,4-D. The violets were not deterred, so I sprayed them with Trimex with about the same result. Then I sent for Confront, which eventually may kill them, but it takes time. The company recommends spraying Confront in late summer or early fall. I did this, but noted that the violets already had sent up seed heads. I noted that each seed head had about 60 seeds and about 30 percent had already set seed. With hundreds of seed heads in my yard, I had thousands of seeds dispersed this year, so spraying violets in late summer is not going to reduce the number because they seed before they die. Is there another solution to eliminating violets?
Several years ago, I wrote you and indicated that my spruce limbs were drying and dying on the northwest side of the trees. This is not spider mites or any other insect that I can see. The limbs continue to suffer and I have friends with limbs succumbing also predominantly on the northwest side of the trees. Do you have any idea what the problem might be? (e-mail reference)
A: I never said the battle would be easy; at least the parent plants, which are perennial, are dying. Next spring, hit the young seedlings with Trimec as they emerge. That is the most vulnerable part of their life cycle. You eventually will win if you persist! All I can advise you about the spruce trees is to send a sample to our plant diagnostic lab in Waldron Hall on the NDSU campus. Send along a full description of what is going on. Don't just send dead tissue, but some that is at the dying/living interface. Thanks for the nice comment about the column. It is appreciated!
Q: I am looking for help with an African violet problem. The plant is healthy, but the violets are becoming overgrown, overcrowded and hard to the touch in the crown. The new leaves and blooms cant force their way out of that tough, hard-leaf overgrowth. Whats wrong? (e-mail reference)
A: The poor thing needs dividing! African violets, in spite of the popular myth that they are delicate houseplants that need fussing over, are almost weedlike in their native environment. To divide the plant, allow the soil to dry slightly, then tap the plant from the container and place it on a workbench or open newspaper. Separate as much of the soil from the root mass as possible, then cut through the crown with a knife, scissors or small pruner. Take the divisions and plant them in a premoistened soil mixture. Keep the soil moist for a few days. Then allow the soil to remain slightly dry for the next couple of weeks so the plant can recover from the shock of division and transplanting. If you have a multicrown plant, divide the multiple crowns by hand and repot.
Q: My African violets have little specks on the leaves, which are limp. Are these bugs? While on vacation, the person baby-sitting the house watered them from the top rather than adding water to the pot. Could it be the white specks are from overwatering? If so, what do I do? (e-mail reference)
A: It could be the water has chlorine in it and causing the speckling. If the specks move or they appear (look at them with a magnifying glass) to have inserted a mouth part, then youve got a problem. My bet is they are water spots and not insects. Dont worry if that is the case. Go back to your usual cultural practices and the plants should recover.
Q: I purchased a blooming African violet more than a year ago. I kept it on my desk at work under fluorescent lighting. It never bloomed after that initial blooming. Was there something I should have done to get it to continue blooming? I didnt give it any food and used purified water. (e-mail reference)
A: You did nothing wrong based on what you have told me. African violets will flower when they have enough energy. They get that energy from light. You might think about adding a plant grow light to give it a little more of a boost. If you are patient enough, the plant eventually will bloom under the fluorescent lights. If it has been more than a year since you made the purchase and are using purified water, you may want to consider a small shot of African violet plant fertilizer to help it along.
Q: I started six leaves from three different African violets. Three of them are thriving and beginning to develop into real plants, but I have tiny gnatlike flying insects around the soil. They look like fruit flies. I dont want to kill the plants. Can you suggest what I could do to get rid of the little flying pests? (e-mail reference)
A: Spray them with a pyrethrin-based houseplant insecticide. Get it in a pump container, not an aerosol type. The aerosol carrier tends to burn the foliage if sprayed too close. Get the flies when they are in flight because this is a contact-only material made from mum plants.
Q: I have an African violet that has a stem approximately a foot long and overhangs the pot terribly. The head is at least a foot in diameter. Its beautiful, green and healthy in appearance, but very top heavy. It now has a baby thats halfway between the base and the head, with no stem of its own. How do I disconnect the baby? How do I shorten the main portion of the stem without killing the mother plant? Ive retrieved several small plants from a main plant in the past, but nothing like this one. It has not bloomed in some time because of its delicate condition. Would I be able to cut the portion of stem between the head and the baby and place the stem in water until small roots begin and then transplant? Please help. (e-mail reference)
A: As African violet plants grow older, the lower leaves eventually die and need to be removed. When enough leaves are gone, the plant takes on a stemmy or necky appearance that is unattractive to most growers. Changes take place with humans as they age and the same is true of African violets. In other words, this is normal with older plants. According to Mel Roby, who wrote the book on African violet culture, everything will be fine if you follow a few steps. Cut off the main stalk of the plant at the soil surface. Trim the stalk so that about 2 inches remain below the rest of the plant. Scrape the stalk with a knife or some other sharp object to rough up the plants tissue. This will encourage root formation. Allow the stalk to dry for about 20 to 30 minutes and then place the stalk in water, vermiculite or perlite until new roots form. Transfer the rooted plant to a pot filled with African violet potting soil. Wait a couple of weeks and begin applying a high P and K fertilizer. This will encourage flowering. Be sure the plant is in bright, but indirect light.
Q: Could you provide me with information on how to transplant African violets? Can I transplant when they are in bloom? (e-mail reference)
A: Knock them out of the pot, get fresh potting soil specific for African violets, and get a slightly larger pot. Repot at the same depth they were in the original pot and water it. African violets frequently are repotted while in bloom. It doesnt hurt the plant, but the blooming cycle usually is truncated at that point. You may want to take the opportunity to propagate these plants through vial leaf petiole cuttings to increase your numbers and act as a hedge against any dying out in the future.
Q: I have a line of African violets along the north window of my apartment. The violets are watered twice a week from the bottom. The topsoil usually is dry. The terra cotta is growing colonies of filmy, fuzzy, white mold. How can I fight the mold while retaining the humidity violets love? (e-mail reference)
A: Try using a fungicide. It can be obtained at any local garden supply store. Using a broad-spectrum fungicide that contains sulfur, such as a Bordeaux mixture, is a good starting point. Some folks have claimed that medicinal mouthwashes also will control mold. I cant personally say if that is true, so Ill stick with the plant fungicide suggestion.
Q: My African violets are doing well. One has bloomed nonstop since last year. They are in my bird room, which is the only place I can keep them because of space problems. How do I clean the leaves? They are very dusty and have seed hulls and feathers on them. I shake them off a few times a week, but I dont believe this can be a good thing. Can I put them in the shower and use a very low setting to rinse them off? Ive heard you dont want to wet the leaves with cold water, so I am assuming water on the leaves is a bad thing. I was going to use my dust buster or fan, but I dont think the leaves could take it. I dont think it would do much good because the leaves are velvety, so everything sticks. What type of soil do you recommend for these lovely show plants? (e-mail reference)
A: They get wet in nature, so go ahead and rinse off the leaves with tepid (skin-temperature) water, then place them in front of a fan for rapid drying. The potting soil should be designated African Violet Potting Soil Mix, which is available just about anywhere garden supplies are sold.
Q: What can I do about the neckiness of my African violets? I dont want to propagate more, just correct the long necks on the plants, which continually flop over. (e-mail reference)
A: My reference book for African violets was written by Melvin Robey. The name of the book is African Violets - Queens of the Indoor Gardening Kingdom. He has several pieces of advice that may help you. Cut off the main stalk of the plant at the soil surface. Trim the stalk so that only 2 to 2.5 inches remain below the rest of the plant. Scrape the stalk with a knife or spoon handle to roughen the plants cell tissue, which encourages root formation. Allow the stalk to air dry for 30 minutes and then place the stalk in water, vermiculite or perlite until new roots form. Transfer the plant to a pot. Wait two weeks and then begin feeding the plant a high P and K plant food. This will encourage the plant to start flowering again. There are two advantages to using this technique on your aging African violets. The plants will begin flowering very soon after being repotted and the technique will restore vigor to an old plant, which means youll be able to enjoy its beauty for many more years. Robey gave the book to my wife for her birthday back in 1983 when we were living in Saudi Arabia.
Q: I have two African violets. I am a little confused about where to place them. I have them about a foot away from a southwest window. I have a sheer curtain on the window. One plant is growing well and flowering while the other is not. They are in the same size container and get the same amount of light, water and humidity. The one not flowering has two crowns in the same pot. Is that the problem? (e-mail reference)
A: That is the problem. The plant needs to be divided and repotted. While it is true that pot-bound African violets are typically the best bloomers, it can go too far.
Q: The leaves on my African violet are firm but are curling. Am I giving it too much water or sunlight? (E-mail reference)
A: Probably too much water. Be sure to water from the bottom, not the top and only about twice a week. African violets should never be put in direct sunlight -- bright indirect light, yes, but not direct sunlight. "Sun-burning" will occur. Check to see if there are any insects on the underside of the leaves. They can sometimes cause the symptoms you describe.
Q: I have an African violet that is in need of repotting but it looks like there are two tubules coming from the soil. Can these be divided successfully and how do I separate them? (E-mail reference)
A: Yes they can be divided using a sharp knife.
Q: I put some African violet stems in water a month ago. Now they have roots about a half inch long. What is the best way to transfer them to potting soil? (Brookings S.D.)
A: Very carefully as water developed roots tend to be a little more brittle than those developed in an artificial media like perlite, vermiculite, or peat moss. I would get some African violet potting soil, pre-moisten it, and then carefully place the newly rooted cutting into the soil. Water it in well to gently settle the soil around the roots.
Q: How do you split an African violet? I have one in a small pot and the flowers had a hard time showing up through all the leaves. Also, how do you start new ones? I have two 35-45 foot evergreen trees I planted 22 years ago and they are doing great, only I have noticed in the past two years that they have sent what looks like roots out from the tree about 4 feet and and about a half inch above the ground. Can I wack them with my chain saw and can I do it now?
This summer I bought six Coleus (Solar Spectrum) plants for around the deck. They are so beautiful I would like to bring them in the house for the winter. Any ideas? (Valley City, N.D.)
A: Take a sharp knife and cut the African violet cleanly through the crown, dividing it either in half or quarters, depending on how thick and big the crown is. New violets are started from leaf cuttings. Simply cut a leaf off the crown, with the petiole attached, and stick it in a sand/peat mix (50/50), keeping it moist, and under diffused or flourescent light. In about four to six weeks, roots should appear and a new plantlet should be visible getting started at the base of the leaf petiole. Go ahead and whack the tree roots. I have never heard of a root developing like you describe, but then I learn something new about nature every day. Go right ahead and bring the Coleus inside. You might also take some cuttings and root them in the same manner as described for African violets, except that you need some of the stem as well. Each cutting should be about 4 inches or more long. Be sure to give them plenty of light to keep them from becoming spindly.
Q: My mother has several standard African violets ( not the minis). She has them on a window sill above her sink, in a north window. She says that until recently they have been absolute blooming fools. She has been trying to find out how to go about separating the mother plant from the six or eight sets of its clones. She had repotted them as they were pot bound , and soon noticed that the smaller plants were growing from the base of the mother plant. They have stopped blooming, I would assume that they are putting the energy into the baby plants. One plant has so many babies that it no longer has room in the pot. She would like to know how to go about dividing them as the small plants have no roots. There is also no type of infestation of insects, crown rot or anything else. Her plants are very healthy, I think she is alarmed because they are no longer blooming. What should she do? (E-mail reference, R.I.)
A: Everything has to stop blooming sometime! Blooming is akin to running a marathon for a plant. The better shape it is in, the better it can perform, but even top performers need some time to recover or "rest." It has been less than 80 years since the first African violet has been introduced as a houseplant, becoming in that time a world-wide favorite of amateurs and experts alike. African violets have five basic needs: steady warmth, careful watering, good light, high humidity, and regular feeding. Keeping the plants moderately root-bound, and using a plastic pot when repotting is essential. The secret to continuous (or nearly so) blooming is to provide excellent flourescent light on a year-'round basis. Back in the late 1920s and up until the late '50s and early '60s, African violets had to be handled with kid gloves. With the bewildering varieties and clones that have come about since then, the violet isn't near as fussy, allowing it to be grown and appreciated by more interested houseplant gardeners. The easiest way to propagate is to divide the crown with a razor blade or a very sharp knife. It sounds like you could get about four divisions from the crowns you describe. Or, as is commonly done, remove a leaf with a long petiole at the edge of the rosette of plantlets that you are describing, and insert it (or them) into a pot containing a 50/50 mix of peat moss and perlite or vermiculite. Moisten well, and cover with a polyethylene bag until new growth is evident, in four to eight weeks. Tell your mom not to be alarmed. African violets today are pretty tough individuals, and as long as she waters them properly, and provides ample bright (but not direct sunlight) light, they should continue to produce well for her.
Q: I have a number of African violet leaves started and it looks like a number of plants coming on each leaf. It is best to trim out all but one, or let them all grow? I have had an Annabelle hydrangea for about eight years, but it has not blossomed. The last few years a few have started to form, but do not continue to mature. I tried putting on miracid, but it did not help. At the garden center they suggested a soil acidifier. I tried that last year, but that did not seem to help either. Do you have any suggestions or know what the problem could be? (E-mail reference, Bruce, S.D.)
A: I suggest letting the African violets grow for awhile. Once the original leaf has died off and the plantlets have matured somewhat, you can divide the crown into two, three or four plants. Generally, the lack of flowering is due to either too much nitrogen or not enough sunlight. If you are too good to the plant nutrient-wise, it may just simply grow vegetatively and not produce flowers. I suggest giving it some "traumatic stimulation" early this spring, by taking a straight-edge spade and pushing it into the ground in about three places outside the spread of the plant to sever some of the roots. Do this before leaf-out takes place. This often pushes a reluctant shrub or tree into flowering within a season.
Q: Do you have any information on how to get African violets to bloom? Should they have specific size pots etc? I use African violet soil and have them in an east window, but they don't seem to be doing very well. (Minot, N.D.)
A: Basically, African violets need bright--but not direct--light, along with a warm, humid environment. They do not do well when their environment goes through fluctuations. When watering, keep it off the foliage, and allow the liquid to come to room temperature before using.
Q. My mother has an African violet, and the base of the leaves are swollen. What causes this, and how can I cure the problem? (St. Paul, Minn.)
A. The swelling of the leaf petiole on African violets is most likely caused by a cyclamen mite infestation. Their feeding activity causes swelling and twisting of the foliage, and the entire plant is stunted with withered flowers. They should be detectable on the underside of the leaves, looking like specks of dust. Shake a leaf over a clean sheet of paper, and these "specks of dust" should move. Unfortunately, insecticides don't work. The only remedy is to dump the plant and begin anew.
Q. Enclosed is a leaf sample from an African Violet plant. I have lost several other plants, and now this one seems like it is going to die also. (Landgon, N.D.)
A. It was difficult to make an accurate diagnosis of the sample you sent in. However, I believe that it may have been a botrytis or powdery mildew that is causing the problem or, due to the curling leaves, the plant may have been exposed to a chilly draft.
It could be a combination of these factors as well. If you are misting the plants, stop; if they are near a window, move them away; if you are over watering, back off; and if it is not growing in a free-draining container, repot.
This is the best advice I can give a this time. Hope something helps!
Q. I have violets of various colors and sizes that I have started from putting a leaf in soil. My problem is that after growth some of the leaves droop because they have stems on the edges that are 6 inches long. Should I keep these trimmed off? Sometimes some of those outer leaves become opaque and the stems dry up. (Ipswich, S.D.)
A. I suggest clipping them off. In their native habitat, they are ground-cover type plants, with the leaves rooting when they touch the moist, organic soil. You might try putting an empty pot next to one of your mother plants with the extended leaves and pinning them onto the soil surface to root.
Q. Can you tell me what is wrong with my African violets and my hoya? Please help me. (Hosmer, S.D.)
A. It looks as if your African violets are suffering from a couple of possible maladies: dry air, too much sun, incorrect watering and overfeeding. I must say that those are some of the largest African violet leaves I've ever seen, so I suspect perhaps overfeeding. Starve it a little and see if it blooms for you.
Other than being undersized, I could not detect anything wrong with the hoya. You might try moving it to a location where it would receive more light from the sun.
Q. Enclosed is a leaf from my African violet. The whole plant is covered with these fine particles. Can you tell me what it is and how I can get rid of it? (Marion, N.D.)
A. At first I thought they may be fertilizer salt crystals, but upon close examination, it turned out they weren't. So, now I am at a loss as to what they are!
They appear benign and nonpathogenic, so I wouldn't worry about it unless the plant declines.
Q. Can you let me know how to control the enclosed "weed"? It's growing like crazy in my flower bed and I don't want it to harm the plants and shrubs that are growing there. (Ashley, N.D.)
A. Why, you have a virulent, vile violet that needs to be vilified until it is vanquished! You may begin doing that with Trimec or Confront, whichever you can obtain without too much trouble. Expect to do repeat applications, as it is very persistent!
Q. I am writing about care and culture of violetshow soon to repot, when to bring them home from florists. Why do they, after awhile, grow heavy stems, neck type? How about water? When I don't have rainwater, I have to use well water. I boil it because it does have minerals. Also, gloxiniasmore or less same questions. How and when to store bulbs until early spring? (Deering, N.D.)
A. Basically African violets and gloxinias need the same care. If they become unattractive with age, they are easily propagated from leaf petiole cuttings.
You are being too fussy with the watering. Boiling does not correct a mineral problem, it tends to concentrate them. I suggest using distilled water when rainwater is not available.
Q. I read your plant information every week and find it very informative. You refer to a "house plant circular" from time to time. I was wondering if it contained any information on African violets and even if it does not, I would like a copy. I don't recall seeing a printed price for it. Could I get a copy please.
Also, do you have any information on African violet sources like catalogs, etc? (Moorhead, Minn.)
A. No problem. A copy of PP-744, "House Plants Proper Care and Problem Solving" is enclosed. Others may get a copy from any county office of the NDSU Extension Service, or by writing to Distribution Center, Ag Communication, PO Box 5655, NDSU, Fargo, ND 58105-5655; telephone, (701) 231-7882. No charge for single copies.
As for African violets, here is an abbreviated list:
Big Sky Violets 10678 Schoolhouse Lane Moiese, MT 59824 (406) 644-2296
Kent's Flowers (Kent & Joyce Stark) 2501 East 23rd Ave. Fremont, NE 68025 (402) 721-1478
Violet Express 1440-41 Everett Road Eagle River, WI 54521 (715) 479-3099
The Violet Showcase (Doug & Brenda Crispin) 3147 South Broadway Englewood, CO 80110 (303) 761-1770
Any or all should help.
Q. Enjoy your horticultural advice and do I need help. My African violets are the problem. They keep multiplying in the pot, are blooming some, but think they would bloom more if they didn't multiply so much. Should I just dig the new plant as it starts? They are in south and west windows with blinds.
Any advice would be appreciated. (Breckenridge, Minn.)
A. African violets should be divided and repotted every year or so, depending on their vigor. You can propagate the cut leaves by simply immersing the leaf petiole into shallow water or a peat/sand mix that is kept moist.
Let them get plenty of bright light, but no direct sunlight, for maximum flowering to take place. Fertilize every 3 to 4 weeks, from spring until autumn, with appropriate fertilizer.
Thanks for writing.
Q. I am having trouble with my African violets. Some are getting mold in the center. The outside leaves look strong and healthy. Is there anything I can use to get rid of this problem? (Waubun, Minn.)
A.African violets are sensitive to standing water around the crown or water on foliage. I suspect you may have a crown rot getting started that the plant is unlikely to recover from.
I suggest taking some leaf petiole cuttings from your favorite plants and rooting them (see enclosed NCR publication #274, "Home Propagation Techniques"). Once rooted, repot the new plant and discard the old diseased one. Make sure you grow African violets in a high organic mix in a pot that is freely drained.
Q. My violet plants are dying after leaves start to dry at the edges then become yellow-spotted all over. Stems seem to rot off, also. I have raised violets for more than 40 years and never had this happen before. Thank you and keep up the good advice column. (Hallock, Minn.)
A. Somehow, someway, your African violets picked up a fungus disease known as gray mold. Check to be sure you are doing the following with your violets:
1. Giving them ample room. 2. Avoiding conditions that lead to high humidity. 3. Not over-fertilizing. 4. Increasing air circulation. 5. Spraying unaffected plants with Captan.
Once the plants become badly infected, it usually is a good idea to dump them to prevent the spread of the disease.
Q: Does a person need to have more than one African Violet plant in order for them to bloom? Killdeer, N.D., e-mail)
A: No, two are not need to produce a bloom, but two blooming together are twice as attractive! Time and patience are the primary ingredients, along with ample light and nutrition. Use African Violet fertilizer to help stimulate blooming.
Q: I have tried to kill the increasing number of volunteer violets in my lawn for years with little success. I know you recommend Trimec, but it does not kill violets for me. Is there a solution? The commercial lawn sprayers in town say they cannot kill them either. I would dig them out, but at first I thought a few would be OK, now I have thousands. (e-mail)
A: What's the world coming to when Trimec doesn't take out violets! Perennial weed control in the spring is difficult anyway, and in the case of violets, impossible! Ask around to see if any lawn care companies have a product called Confront. It should do the job. If you cannot find anyone who uses this material, then get after the violets again in late August or early September. They are more vulnerable at that time of year, and the translocation of the Trimec would be most effective.
Q: How do I get rid of volunteer violets in my yard? (Clear Lake, S.D.)
A: Give Trimec a try, around Labor Day weekend.
Q: What is happening to my African violets? I have been growing them for years and now they have just stopped growing and wilt until they are dead. I havent changed my method of care for them, except when I transplant them I have been using vermiculite. Could that be the problem? I cant see that there are bugs on the plants. (Fessenden, N.D.)
A: The sample you sent had no evidence of any insects. It appears as if your African Violets are dying out from a crown rot fungus. This is brought on by over-watering (or the soil holding too much moisture) and wide temperature fluctuations. It is infectious, so if you handle a plant with these symptoms, it can be transmitted to other healthy plants upon handling. Although I cannot put the cause to the addition of vermiculite, I am still suspicious of it due to its high water holding capability. My suggestion: Throw out any symptomatic plants; repot in free-draining plastic pots; use only African violet potting soil; dont over-water; and provide supplemental light via plant lights.
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