A Brief History of the African Violet
Early specimens of African violets had been collected by Sir John Kirk on the coast “opposite Zanzibar” in 1884, and by the Rev. W.E. Taylor in the Giryama and Shimba Mountains in 1887.
In 1892, in Tanzania (then German East Africa), Captain Baron Walter von Saint Paul, the German Imperial District Captain of Usambara, collected a plant he called “ das violette Usambara” (the Usambara violet). Captain Baron Saint Paul came from a family with a strong interest in plants. His father was even President of the German Dendrological Society.
Walter Saint Paul sent plants or seeds of this African “violet” to his father. His father gave them to Hermann Wendland, Director of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Herrenhausen in Hanover, Germany; and it was Wendland who wrote the first scientific description of the plant in Latin.
Wendland placed the plants in the Gesneriad family, gave them the generic name Saintpaulia (in honor of the Saint Paul family), and the species name ionantha (with violet-like flowers).
Today numerous species of African violets have been discovered, and are still being discovered. These species plants all have various shades of violet, blue, or lavender colored blossoms. From these species, their hybrids, and mutations of these hybrids have come the thousands of cultivars that we enjoy today.
In 1893 the seed house of Ernst Benary, then in Erfurt, Germany and now located in Munden, Germany started to grow African violet plants commercially.
The first English language description of the African violet (with a colored plate) appeared in Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, in 1895.
Commercial growing of African violets in the United States began in 1926 when Armacost and Royston of West Los Angeles, California imported seeds from Benary in Germany and Sutton in England, and introduced the plants to the trade. In the next 20 years interest in the African violet increased among commercial and amateur growers to the point that in 1946 a national society was formed.