Where Did The African Violet Come From? The Discovery

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The African violet is, of course, not violet at all, even though it does come from Africa and its more usual deep purple blooms are of violet form and color.

It is a member of the Gesneriaceae family, along with the velvet-leaved gloxinia. Baron Walter von Saint Paul first discovered the plant.

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His father, Hofmarschal Baron von Saint Paul of Fischbach in Silesia, president of the Dendrological Society of Germany, a group devoted to the study of trees, took particular interest in this botanical discovery.


The publisher of Curtis Magazine, an old English publication which you can perhaps find in bound volumes among the horticultural books in your library, wrote:

“The Saintpaulia was discovered by my son, who lives in East Africa where he owns plantations of vanilla and India-rubber trees. It was found in two localities; one about an hour from Tanga, in wooded places, in the fissures of limestone rocks, and rich soil with plenty of vegetable matter.

This place is not more than fifty to one hundred and fifty feet above sea level. The second place is in the ancient forest of Numara, likewise in shady situations, but on granite rocks, two thousand five hundred feet above the sea.

It is much more plentiful in the former place. Several varieties have been discovered that differ slightly in the color of the flowers, but all are blue.”

From seeds sent to England by Baron Walter, plants were raised by Dr. Herman Wendland of Herrenhausen. When these flowered in 1893, he exhibited them in Ghent at the International Horticultural Exhibit, and they “shared with Eulophiella demonstrated by Messrs.

Linden the honor of being the two most botanically exciting plants in the exhibition.”

The next year nurserymen around the continent carried the seed, and the Revue L’Horticulture Beige et Etrangere, beside a picture of a rather unrealistic and very blue saintpaulia with very pink petal reverses, remarked, “And plants of this marvelous subject blooming in the time of year when flowers are rarest” were offered by L’Etablissement Ed. Pymcrt-Van Geert for six francs each.

Flowering plants were also developed in the Royal Gardens of England.

More on the “Early Days of African violets.”


The procedure was that prescribed for the gloxinia. A half-century later, we still grew saintpaulia seeds the gloxinia way, but the plant culture had many a green-thumb gardener puzzled.

Perhaps because in its native state, the African violet grows under such varying conditions as “rock fissures” and “rich soil” and at such different altitudes, in civilization, it also offers contradictions.

This results in one enthusiast claiming success by methods quite the opposite of other plants.

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