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 was the beginning of the plant identified with the name of the flower’s genus Saintpaulia, more commonly known as the African violet.
Baron Walter von Saint Paul-Illaire found a violet-like plant growing in the Usambara Mountains.
The first commercially produced plants were offered by Friedrich in Erfurt, Germany.
Due to the cold weather, they did not survive and earned a reputation of being difficult to grow.
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 identifying10 varieties – out of about 1.000 plants – that had good growth habits, strong character of the foliage, appealing colors, and high bloom count.
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.
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 ‘ and above ‘Periwinkle.’
Photo source: “All about African Violets – The Complete Guide to Success with Saintpaulias,” by Montague Free
‘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.
‘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”.
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 07-28-1942.
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 08-03-1943.
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.
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.
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, education, research, and the culture of African violets.
‘Redhead’ (from hybridizer Merkel) and ‘Redland’ (from hybridizer V. Starr) are listed under AVS48 in the MVL as the first red blossoms.
Crown variegation – when the color of the new leaves in the center of the crown is a lighter color such as white, pink, or yellow, and when these leaves mature, they become greener – 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.
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 the 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 would have a unique name according to 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. This report was the beginning of the Master Variety List (MVL).
‘Luana’ (#351) was registered by hybridizer J. Furnish on July 05, 1949.
‘Lady Catherine’ (#320) was registered by hybridizer V. Davis on July 20, 1949.
‘Ruffled White’ (#560) was registered by hybridizer Good & Reese on December 01, 1949.
‘Fantasy’ (#217) was registered by hybridizer R. Behnke/Naylor on December 05,1949.
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.”
A miniature is defined 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 were ‘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.
‘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.
In the late 1950’s, Dmitrii Zalesskii, the Director of the Botanical Garden of Leningrad State University hybridized the first varieties, ‘Goluboi Dunai’ (‘Blue Danube’) and ‘Sneg i Ten’ (‘Snow and Shadow’). In the early 1960’s Boris and Tatiana Makuni introduced their first double fringed ‘Natalie.’ Since 2002, there have been many successful hybridizers from Russia.
‘Marvin’s Silver Girl’ (#692) was registered by hybridizer Marvin on January 26, 1952.
‘All Aglow’ (#7) was registered by hybridizer Behnke on May 10, 1952.
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.
‘Blue Buttercup’ (#42) was registered by hybridizer Fischer on March 23, 1953.
Mrs. Hotchkiss and Mrs. Anderson admire the outstanding specimen of “Double Delight” entered in the 1954 St Louis Show by Mrs. Hotchkiss.
The 1954 convention in St Louis was much anticipated for the big news of “double pinks” – 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.
‘Tinari’s Geneva Trailer’ (625) was registered by F Tinari on December 31, 1954.
‘T-V Cut Velvet’ (#717) was registered by hybridizer M. Vallin on November 25, 1955.
‘Frilled Blue Lace’ (#806) was registered by hybridizer M. Rand on September 01, 1956.
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.
‘Tommie Lou’ (#1744) was registered by hybridizer T. Oden on October 25, 1967.
‘Lilian Jarrett’ (#2902) was registered by hybridizer F. Tinari on September 28, 1989.
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.
‘Pat’s Pet’ (#1550) was registered by hybridizer L. Lyon on September 13, 1965.
‘Violet Trail’ (#2468) was registered by hybridizer L. Lyon on August 15, 1973.
‘Pixie Blue’ (#2598) and ‘Pixie Pink’ (#2599) were registered by hybridizer L. Lyon on September 16, 1974.
‘Blue Star Lou’ (#3302) was registered by hybridizer H. Rienhardt on January 23, 1978.
‘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
‘Cirelda’ (#3620) was registered by hybridizer P. Tracy on March 01, 1979.
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 Stork
‘Melodie Kimi’ (#8100) was registered by hybridizer Sunnyside/Levy on September 15, 1994. The thumbprint trait is not searchable in First Class.
‘Granger’s Desert Dawn’ (#4050) and ‘Granger’s Valencia’ (#4051) were registered by hybridizer Eyerdom on September 15, 1980.
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.
‘His Promise’ was hybridized by N. Blansit in 1992.
‘Rob’s Lucky Penny’ (#8611) was registered by hybridizer R. Robinson on May 31, 1997.
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.
‘Belye Nochi’ (#9496) was introduced in 2003 and registered by hybridizer Evgeii Arkhipov on December 05, 2005. This variety was judged by Paul Sorano when he visited Dom Fialki (The House of Violets, Moscow) in 2004 and was awarded the Best in Show for unusual color and fantasy. Although there have been many Russian varieties introduced since the late 1950’s, they were not registered until 2005.
‘Optimara NeverFloris’ is an African violet with beautiful green leaves and hundreds of green blossom buds which 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.
New emphasis on the original species has been a growing trend since the 1980’s but it reached a peak after the Darbyshire revision of 2006, which reclassified and reduced the number of species. Through further studies (as of March 2020) Saintpaulia is now recognized as a sub-species of Streptocarpus.
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.
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 issues of the African Violet Magazine in the Biodiversity Heritage Library or the First Class database unless otherwise noted.
Answers for “Test Your Knowledge About African Violets and AVSA”
- What year and who discovered the plant named “African Violet”?
Answer: 1892 by Baron Walter von Saint Paul-Illaire
- Where in the United States and who imported seeds and come up with the original 10 African Violets?
Answer: Los Angeles, Armacost & Royston
- Can you name the Original 10 African violets?
Answer: Admiral, Amethyst, Blue Boy, Commodore, Mermaid, Neptune, Norseman, Sailor Boy, Viking and #32
- What year was AVSA incorporated?
- What year was the first AVSA Show?
- In what year was the first African Violet Handbook for Judges and Exhibitors adopted by AVSA?