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CLASS: 15

AVSA 75th Anniversary Special Exhibits
African Violet Origin and Evolution

Going back almost 129 years ago to 1892, when the internet did not exist and information was not as well preserved as today, the earlier years of this timeline depend on what was written down and passed on.

The plant with a violet-like flower left quite an impression on the German district commissioner in Tanganyika, so much so that he sent some seeds back to his father. This is the beginnings of the plant identified with the name of the flower’s genus, Saintpaulia  more commonly known as the African violet.

  • 1892:

    Discovery of Saintpaulia

    00 Saint Paul Illaire

    Baron Walter von Saint Paul-Illaire found a violet-like plant growing in the Usambara Mountains.

  • 1893:

    Seeds sent to Germany

    The first commercially produced plants were offered by Friedrich in Erfurt, Germany.

  • 1894:

    African Violets arrived in New York!

    Due to the cold weather, they did not survive and earned a reputation of being difficult to grow.

  • 1926:

    Seed sent to Los Angeles, U.S.A.

    1926 Walter L Armacost 1

    Armacost & Royston, Los Angeles imported seeds from Benary in Germany and Sutton in England.  Walter L. Armacost, president and general manager at that time, worked with  Mr. Bracey and Mr. Oertel on a strict elimination plan identifying, out of about 1.000 plants, 10 varieties that have goods growth habits, strong character of the foliage, appealing colors, and high bloom count.

  • 1935:

    Original Ten African Violets Introduced in the U.S.A

    The Original 10 — Admiral, Amethyst, Blue Boy, Commodore, Mermaid, Neptune, Norseman, Sailor Boy, Viking and #32 — were placed on the market in 1936, in the U.S.A., South America, Australia, Canada and many European countries.

    1935 6 Early Varieties MF

    Saintpaulias in a strawberry jar. Varieties in flower: top, rear, Blue Boy; front, Double Blue Boy; left, Lady Geneva; center, Redhead Supreme; right, Amazon Pink above Periwinkle.

    Photo source: “All about African Violets – The Complete Guide to Success with Saintpaulias” by Montague Free

  • 1939:

    First Double Blossom

    “Double Duchess,” a mutation of “Blue Boy” from hybridizer E. Wangbichler, was noted in the AVM, as the first double pink blossom. The first registered double blossom is “Lady Catherine” (#320), registered by hybridizer V. Davis on July 20, 1949.

  • 1940:

    First Pink Blossom

    “Pink Beauty,” from hybridizer F. Brockner. At that time, African violets were not yet registered, as the Master Variety List (MVL) did not exist. He did however, patent it under Patent #514, on May 5, 1942, which meant that anyone who wanted to propagate and sell “Pink Beauty” would need to purchase “Pink Beauty” tags to be place on each plant being sold. This patent lasted 17 years.

    Other Pink blossoms introduced before 1948 are “Dainty Maid,” from hybridizer R. Brown, “Amazon Pink,” from hybridizer Armacost & Royston, and “Pink Girl,” from hybridizer R. Baxter, all were later listed in the MVL with the registration “AVS48”.

  • 1941:

    First Girl Foliage

    1942 Blue Girl AVM

    Girl foliage is a leaf with a scalloped edge and a white or yellow marking at the base of each leaf. It has nothing to do with the sex of the plant.

    “Blue Girl” was not registered in the MVL, but was later listed in the MVL with the registration “AVS48”. Mr. and Mrs. Public of Ulery Greenhouses patented “Blue Girl” (Patent #535), however, on 1942-07-28 .

  • 1942:

    First White Blossom

    In 1942, “White Lady” was the first white blossom African violet. It was later listed in the MVL with the registration “AVS48.” Hybridizer Peter Ruggeri of Silver Terrace Nursey patented “White Lady” (patent #597) on 1943-08-03.

  • 1946:

    Pre-AVSA

    1947 Pre AVSA 1

    In response to a small notice about the formation of the African Violet Society of America in the February 1947 Better Homes and Gardens, AVSA secretary Alma Wright received thousands of letters from African violet people who wished to join the society. Left to right: Alma Wright, Mary Parker.

  • 1946:

    First AVSA Show

    1st AVSA Show 1

    November 8, 1946, the African Violet Society of America (AVSA) is organized in the Hastings Show Room in Atlanta Georgia. Thirty-four cultivars were entered.

  • 1947:

    AVSA Incorporation

    AVSA was incorporated on June 30, 1947. The AVSA is now a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation with an office in Beaumont, Texas, dedicated to society business and the culture of African violets.

  • 1947:

    First Red Blossom

    “Redhead” (from hybridizer Merkel) and “Redland” (from hybridizer V. Starr) are listed under AVS48 in the MVL with the first red blossoms.

  • 1947:

    First Crown Variegated Foliage

    Crown variegation is when the color of the new leaves in the center of the crown is variegated with a lighter color such as white, pink, or yellow. As these leaves mature, they become greener. This trait first appeared in 1947.

    “Silver Flute” from hybridizer E. Champion was registered  as #833 on November 08, 1956 as variegated without the word ‘crown’. It is said to be the first crown variegated African violet.

  • 1949:

    The First Edition of the MVL was published

    In The African Violet Magazine (AVM) Vol . 1 No. 2, dated 1947, the President Mrs. O. E. Keller’s message in a letter to a member Mrs. K., refers to establishing of a reliable and permanent nomenclature for African violets. A classification committee was already at work in classifying the different known varieties, so that each one will have a unique name, its distinctive color of bloom, leaf pattern, form of growth, etc. The first report from the classification committee was dated, February 25, 1949, which included 28 entries.

  • 1949:

    First Frilled Blossom

    “Luana” (#351) was registered by hybridizer J. Furnish on July 05, 1949.

  • 1949:

    The First Semi-miniature

    “Lady Catherine” (#320) was registered by hybridizer V. Davis on July 20, 1949.

  • 1949:

    First Ruffled Blossom

    1949 Fringed MF

    “Ruffled White” (#560) was registered by hybridizer Good & Reese on December 01, 1949.

  • 1949:

    First Fantasy Blossom

    “Fantasy” (#217) was registered by hybridizer R. Behnke/Naylor on December 05,1949.

  • 1950:

    The first African Violet Handbook for Judges and Exhibitors

    Ruth G. Carey wrote the first “African Violet Handbook for Judges and Exhibitors,” which was adopted by the AVSA Executive Board on May 13, 1950. In 1977, she assigned the copyright to the African Violet Society of America, Inc. Since that time, it has been revised by an AVSA Committee. In 1981, the title was changed to “The African Violet Society of America Handbook for Growers, Exhibitors and Judges.”

  • 1950:

    The First Miniature

    A miniature is listed in the MVL as a variety of African violet that, when fully mature, is between 3 and 6 inches in diameter.

    “Diane” (#172) was registered by hybridizer Anderson on August 14, 1950. Others that followed are “Miss Liberty” (#385), registered by hybridizer F. Tinari on April 29, 1951 and “Little Geneva Princess” (#342), registered by hybridizer R. Baxter on November 02, 1952.

  • 1950:

    First Geneva Edge Blossom

    1950 Lady Geneva

    “Lady Geneva” first appeared in 1950. The term Geneva edge is used to describe blossoms with a white edge,  “Lady Geneva” is not registered or listed in the MVL.

    “Queen Geneva” (#501) was registered by hybridizer O. Silcott on August 01, 1951.

  • 1952:

    First Variegation

    “Marvin’s Silver Girl” (#692) was registered by hybridizer Marvin on January 26, 1952.

  • 1952:

    First Coral Blossom

    “All Aglow” (#7) was registered by hybridizer Behnke on May 10, 1952.

  • 1952:

    First Star Blossom

    The first star blossoms appeared in 1952 with “Purple Star” and “Star Sapphire” from Robert Craig Co., Pennsylvania. These two varieties were not registered. “Blue Sensation” (#780) by hybridizer Graham became the first registered star flower on May 15, 1955.

  • 1953:

    First Bell Blossom

    “Blue Buttercup” (#42) was registered by hybridizer Fischer on March 23, 1953.

  • 1954:

    Double Delight

    1954 Double Delight AVM

    Mrs. Hotchkiss and Mrs. Anderson admire the outstanding specimen of “Double Delight” entered in the 1954 St Louis Show by Mrs. Hotchkiss.

  • 1954:

    First Pink Double Blossom

    The 1954 convention in St Louis was much anticipated for the big news of “Double Pinks” from not just one but eight new introductions: one from Fischer’s, two from Ulery’s and five from Tonkadale’s Greenhouse, exhibiting for the first time as a commercial. Tonkadale took the blue ribbon for “Double Pink”, Ulery took the Red ribbon for their “Double Pink” and Fischer took the white ribbon for “Pink Fringette”.

    Later in the year, “Double Pink Cheer” (#186), “Double Pink Cloud” (#187), and “Double Pink Puff” (#188), were registered by hybridizer L. Lyon on October 29, 1954.

  • 1954:

    First Trailing African Violet

    “Tinari’s Geneva Trailer” (625)was registered by F Tinari on December 31, 1954.

  • 1955:

    First Green Edged Blossom

    “T-V Cut Velvet” (#717) was registered by hybridizer M. Vallin on November 25, 1955.

  • 1956:

    First Cupped Blossom

    “Frilled Blue Lace” (#806) was registered by hybridizer M. Rand on September 01, 1956.

  • 1957:

    First Wasp Blossom and Bustle-back Foliage

    1964 Spootnik FC

    In 1957, Jimmy Dates received a plant named “Bustles” from Mrs. Hotchkiss of Peoria, Illinois. This sport showed up in a pan of ”Prince Purple” leaves. It is from this plant that Jimmy hybridized and introduced sixty new varieties, of which eight had wasp-type blossoms and bustled leaves. Two were introduced in 1964: “Pink Wasp” and “Spootnik” (#1498) were registered by hybridizer A. Dates on November 30, 1964.

  • 1958:

    First Tommie Lou Variegated Foliage

    1967 Tommie Lou FC

    “Tommie Lou” (#1744) was registered by hybridizer T. Oden on October 25, 1967.

  • 1961:

    First Mosaic Variegated Foliage

    “”Lilian Jarrett” (#2902) was registered by hybridizer F. Tinari on September 28, 1989.

  • 1963:

    First Coral Blossom

    Although, “Coral Satin” first appeared in 1963, it was not registered for two years.  “Coral Satin” (#1536) was registered by hybridizer F. Tinari on August 6,1965.

  • 1965:

    First Green Blossom

    “Pat’s Pet” (#1550) was registered by hybridizer L. Lyon on September 13, 1965.

  • 1973:

    First Standard Trailer

    1973 Violet Trail FC

    “Violet Trail” (#2468) was registered by hybridizer L. Lyon on August 15, 1973.

  • 1974:

    First Mini Trailer

    1974 Pixie Blue

    Pixie Blue

    1974 Pixie Pink FC

    Pixie Pink

    “Pixie Blue” (#2598) and “Pixie Pink” (#2599) were registered by hybridizer L. Lyon on September 16, 1974.

  • 1978:

    First Variegated Trailer

    “Blue Star Lou” (#3302) was registered by hybridizer H. Rienhardt on January 23, 1978.

  • 1979:

    First Micro-miniature

    1979 Pip Squeek

    “Pip Squeek (#3603) was registered by hybridizer L. Lyon on February 6, 1979. The world’s smallest African violet in Snoopy’s hat, arrangement and photo by Lyndon Lyon

  • 1979:

    First Semi-miniature Trailer

    1979 Cirelda FC

    “Cirelda” (#3620) was registered by hybridizer P. Tracy on March 01, 1979.

  • 1980:

    First Thumbprint Blossom

    1980 Melodie Kimi FC

    In AVM, “The earliest thumbprint I remember seeing was “Melodie Kimi,” which we first saw in 1980 at the New Orleans convention. It was not registered until much later but it was a showstopper at that time” — Joyce”

    “Melodie Kimi” (#8100) was registered by hybridizer Sunnyside/Levy on September 15, 1994. The thumbprint trait is not searchable in First Class.

  • 1980:

    First Chimera Blossom

    1980 Grangers Desert Dawn FC

    “Granger’s Desert Dawn” (#4050) and “Granger’s Valencia” (#4051) were registered by hybridizer Eyerdom on September 15, 1980.

  • 1984:

    Space Violets

    1984 Optimara Everglades FC

    25,000 Optimara seeds were launched into space aboard NASA’s space shuttles. The seeds were intended to be in space for six months, but they remained orbiting the earth for nearly six years. One mutation is that the Optimara violets have an abundance of flowers and never stop blooming. The series of varieties with the names beginning “Optimara Ever” was cultivated from the space seeds. “Optimara Everglades” was the first of the Optimara Ever series registered by Holtkamp on April 11, 1990.

  • 1991:

    First Russian Varieties

    1991Belye Nochi FC

    “Belye Nochi” (#9496) was registered by hybridizer E. Arkhipov on December 05,2005.

    This was the start of selection based on large blossoms, unusual markings, showy traits and intense bloom color.

  • 1992:

    First Yellow Blossom

    1992 yellow

    “His Promise” was hybridized by N. Blansit in 1992.

  • 1997:

    First Chimera Variegated Foliage

    1997 Robs Lucky Penny 2

    “Rob’s Lucky Penny” (#8611) was registered by hybridizer R. Robinson on May 31, 1997.

  • 2000:

    First No-Petals

    Botanika Violet Barn

    Photo from Violet Barn

    Saintpaulia ‘Botanika’ is an evolutionary mutation. This variety first appeared in England prior to 2000 and was introduced to Germany through the Dutch flower market. Angelika Richter with the Pflanzen-Beier Greenhouse In Mannheim, Germany, knowing Saintpaulia ‘Botanika’ was something special, shared a post with a picture on the web in November of 2000.

    A close examination by Jeff Smith revealed that what would otherwise have been normal petals were developed into partial stamens and yellow anthers (pollen sacks) on the edge of incomplete lower petals. This heavy bloomer with virtually no petals — just clusters of the bright yellow anthers — has not been registered with AVSA.

  • 2005:

    Oddities in Evolution

    Optimara NeverFloris

    Photo from Selective Gardener

    “Optimara NeverFloris” is an African violet with beautiful green leaves and hundreds of green blossom buds that do not open. It was developed by the Holtkamp research center in Germany. The idea is to have a rich texture base for floral designs, performing like foliage which lasts for many months.

    This avant-garde plant received the prestigious Rabensteiner Award for the “Best Marketable Plant Novelty for 2009 in Germany. “Optimara NeverFloris” has never been registered by Holtkamp.

  • 2006:

    Revision of the Species

    New emphasis on the original species has been a growing trend since the 1980’s, but reached a peak after the Darbyshire revision of 2006, which reclassified and reduced the number of species. Through further studies as of March 2020, it is now recognized that the Saintpaulia is a sub-species of Streptocarpus.

  • 2020:

    New Types of Variegated Foliage

    Spontaneous variegated foliage consisting of random patches of light and dark green is seen in “Optimara Loyality” and “Optimara Charity”.

    Cosmic variegated foliage with light yellow spots of different sizes in the leaves is seen in “Cosmic Fairy”.

    Both new types can be reproduced consistently and are stable under most growing conditions.

  • 2021:

    Credits

    This timeline is based on Dr. Jeff Smith’s article “AVSA 75th Anniversary: African Violet Firsts” in the AVM January-February 2021 issue, Volume 74 #1.

    Photos are extracted from African Violet magazines in the Biodiversity Heritage Library or the First Class database unless otherwise noted.

Answers for “Test Your Knowledge About African Violets and AVSA”

  1. What year and who discovered the plant named “African Violet”?

Answer:  1892 by Baron Walter von Saint Paul-Illaire

  1. Where in the United States and who imported seeds and come up with the original 10  African Violets?

Answer: Los Angeles, Armacost & Royston

  1. Can you name the Original 10 African violets?

Answer:  Admiral, Amethyst, Blue Boy, Commodore, Mermaid, Neptune, Norseman, Sailor Boy, Viking and #32

  1. What year was AVSA incorporated?

Answer:  1947

  1. What year was the first AVSA Show?

Answer:  1946

  1. In what year was the first African Violet Handbook for Judges and Exhibitors adopted by AVSA?

Answer:  1950