The Science of African Violets

From the beginning of the Society there has been interest in research and scientific information about African violets, even though a large percentage of the membership is made up of hobbyist growers.

AVSA has long supported scientific investigation focused on issues impacting African violets.   In 1949, just 3 years after the creation of the Society, members of AVSA established the Boyce Edens Research Fund to support research.  Today the fund provides research grants and college scholarships.

Saintpaulia ionantha illustration published in Gartenflora 1893


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 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. 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).

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, with the comment:

It doesn’t often happen that a plant newly introduced into Europe can claim the honor accorded to the subject of this plate, of being, within two years of its flowering, figured in five first-class horticultural periodicals.

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.

Armacost and Royston used the resulting plants to develop ten new hybrid African violets. The original ten selected for release included:

  • Blue Boy
  • Sailor Boy
  • Admiral
  • Amethyst
  • Commodore
  • Mermaid
  • Neptune
  • Norseman
  • Viking
  • and #32

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.

Originally more than 20 species and subspecies of African violets were described. In 2009 this number was reduced down to nine species using DNA evidence.

Based on genetic studies, the International Society for Horticultural Science reclassified Saintpaulia as a sub-species (section) of Streptocarpus in 2015.* The International Botanical Congress has agreed that the Gesneriad Society will control the registration of cultivars for all Gesneriads except African violets.  That right belongs with the AVSA.

For additional detailed information, we recommend Dr. Jeff Smith’s comprehensive article on the history and taxonomy of the species for the Gesneriad Refence Web  titled Saintpaulia — The African Violet.”

*Nishii, K., M. Hughes, M. Briggs, E. Haston, F. Christie, M.J. DeVillers, T. Hanekom, W.G. Roos, D.U. Bellstedt and M. Möller. 2015. Streptocarpus redefined to include all Afro-Malagasy Gesneriaceae: Molecular phylogenies prove congruent with geographical distribution and basic chromosome numbers and uncover remarkable morphological homoplasies.  Taxon 64(6):1243-1274.

Read the history and taxonomy of violets in Saintpaulia – The African Violet, by Dr. Jeffrey Smith.

Dr. Jeff Smith
Graphic Join African Violet Society of America


This reference list on articles concerning African violets is compiled by Jeffery Smith, B.S., M.S., PhD. (Botany), of Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana.

For convenience, articles are organized by subject matter.


  • Anonymous 1992: Saintpaulia – de vilda arterna. Botaniska Trädgården, Uppsala Universitet. 20
  • Baatvik, S. T. 1993: The genus Saintpaulia (Gesneriaceae) 100 years: History, taxonomy,
    ecology, distribution and conservation. – Fragmenta Floristica Geobotanica Supplementum 2(1):
  • Haarer, A. E. 1955: Saintpaulias in the wild. – Gard. Chron. 3, ser 138: 172.
  • Lupala, S., Kolehmainen, J. & Killenga, R. 2003: Saintpaulia: Eastern Arc Hidden Treasure. –
    Misitu ni Uhai (Forestry is Wealth) Newsletter 6 (1): 31-32.
  • Martins, D. J. 2005: The wild side of the African violet. – Swara, July-Sept 2005: 44-47.
  • Punter, R. E. 1958: A search for African violets on the Sigi River. – African Violet Magazine 12:
  • Smith, J. 1997: “Saintpaulia: Taxonomy, Ecology and Distribution.”
  • Watkins, C., Kolehmainen, J. & Schulman, L. 2002: The African Violet Saintpaulia
    (Gesneriaceae) – An Interim Guide. 52 p. Worldstage. Cambridge, United Kingdom.


  • Anonymous 2002: Saintpaulia self-pollination. – African Violet Magazine 55(6): 39.
  • Heimala, V. Amegilla-mehiläiset (Hymenoptera; Apidae) saintpaulian (Saintpaulia;
    Gesneriaceae) pölyttäjinä. – Pro gradu- tutkielma, Helsingin yliopisto, Bio- ja ympäristötieteiden
    laitos, helmikuu 2008.
  • Johansson, D. R. 1978: Saintpaulias in their natural environment with notes on their present
    status in Tanzania and Kenya. – Biological Conservation 14: 45-62.
  • Kolehmainen, J. 2008: Ecology, population genetics and conservation of the African violet
    (Saintpaulia, Gesneriaceae) – Academic Dissertation, Faculty of Biosciences and Faculty of
    Agriculture and Forestry, University of Helsinki.
  • Kolehmainen, J., Korpelainen, H. & Mutikainen, P.: Inbreeding and inbreeding depression in a
    threatened endemic plant, the African violet (Saintpaulia ionantha ssp. grotei), of the East
    Usambara Mountains, Tanzania. – African Journal of Ecology, in press.
  • Kolehmainen, J., and Mutikainen, P. 2006: Reproductive ecology of three species of the
    endangered African violet (Saintpaulia) in the East Usambara Mts., Tanzania. – African Journal
    of Ecology 44 (2): 219-227.
  • Kolehmainen, J. & Mutikainen, P. 2007: Population stage structure, survival and recruitment in
    the endangered East African forest herb Saintpaulia. – Plant Ecology 192: 85-95.
  • Kolehmainen, J. 2000: African Violets (Saintpaulia) in Amani Nature Reserve, East Usambara,
    NE Tanzania – Population Ecology and Conservation Needs. M.Sc. thesis. University of
    Helsinki, Finland. 48 p.
  • Martins, D.J. 2008. Pollination observations of the African Violet in the Taita Hills, Kenya. J.
    East Afr. Nat. Hist. 97: 33–42.

Taxonomy and evolution:

  • Bruce, E. A. 1933: Saintpaulia alba – Kew Bulletin 1933 (10): 475-476.
  • Burtt, B. L. 1947: Species of Saintpaulia. – Gard. Chron. 3, ser. 122: 22-23.
  • Burtt, B. L. 1948: Saintpaulia tongwensis. – Curtis’s Botanical Magazine 165: N.S. t. 11.
  • Burtt, B. L. 1955: Studies in the Gesneriaceae of the Old World IX: Two new species from
    Africa. – Notes of the Royal Botanic Gardarden Edinburgh 21: 238-239.
  • Burtt, B. L. 1956: A confusion in African violets. – Baileya 4: 163-164.
  • Burtt, B. L. 1958: Studies in the Gesneriaceae of the Old World XV: The genus Saintpaulia. –
    Notes of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 22 (6): 547-568.
  • Burtt, B. L. 1964: Studies in the Gesneriaceae of the Old World XXV: Additional notes on
    Saintpaulia. – Notes of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 25 (3):191-195.
  • Burtt, B. L. 1976a: S. rupicola. – In: Flowering plants of Africa. 43: pl. 1720.
  • Burtt, B. L. 1976b: S. orbicularis var. purpurea. – Curtis’s Botanical Magazine 181(2): 77-79, tab.
  • Christenhusz, M.J.J. 2012. On African violets and Cape primroses – towards a monophyletic
    Streptocarpus (Gesneriaceae). Phytotaxa 46: 3-9.
  • Cox, H. & Roberts, E. P. 1950: Saintpaulia tongwensis. – African Violet Magazine 3 (4): 5.
  • Cox, H. & Roberts, E. P. 1951: Species nomenclature of the African violet. Continued, with
    special attention to the species Saintpaulia goetzeana. – African Violet Magazine 4(3): 16-17.
  • Darbyshire I. 2006. Gesneriaceae. Flora of tropical East Africa. Kew: Royal Botanic Gardens.
  • Engler, A. 1900: Gesneriaceae. – Botanische Jahrbücher 28(4): 481-483, Tab. 5-7.
  • Engler, A. 1921: Gesneriaceae africanae, IV. – Botanische Jahrbücher 57: 202-204.
  • Harrison, C. J., Möller, M. & Cronk, Q. C. B. 1999: Evolution and development of floral
    diversity in Streptocarpus and Saintpaulia. – Annals of Botany, London 84(1): 49-60
  • Hooker, J. D. 1895: Saintpaulia ionantha. – Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, tab. 7408.
  • Kolehmainen, J. & Korpelainen, H. 2008: Morphotypes, varieties, or subspecies?: genetic
    diversity and differentiation of four Saintpaulia (Gesneriaceae) morphotypes from the East
    Usambara Mountains, Tanzania. – Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 157: 347–355.
  • Linqvist, C. & Albert, V. A. 1999: Phylogeny and conservation of African violets (Saintpaulia:
    Gesneriaceae): new findings based on nuclear ribosomal 5S non-transcribed spacer sequences. –
    Kew Bulletin 54: 363-377.
  • Linqvist, C. & Albert, V. A. 2001: A high elevation ancestry for the Usambara mountains and
    lowland populations of African violets. – Syst. Geogr. Pl. 71: 37-44.
  • Machara, S., Pearce, T.R., Bytebier, B. & Aman, R. 1996: Molecular taxonomy of Saintpaulia
    rupicola and the genus Saintpaulia. In: van der Maesen, L. J. G. et al. (eds.) 1996: The
    Biodiversity of African Plants, pp. 329-330. Kluwer Academic Publishers. The Netherlands.
  • Möller, M. & Cronk, Q. C. B. 1997a: Origin and relationships of Saintpaulia (Gesneriaceae)
    based on ribosomal DNA internal transcribed spacer (ITS) sequences. – American Journal of
    Botany 84(7): 956-965.
  • Möller, M. & Cronk, Q. C. B. 1997b: Phylogeny and disjunct distribution: evolution of
    Saintpaulia (Gesneriaceae). – Proc. R. Soc. Lond. Biol. Sci. 264: 1827-1836.
  • Möller, M. & Cronk, Q. C. B. 1999: New approaches to the systematics of Saintpaulia and
    Streptocarpus. In: Andrews, S., Leslie, A.C. & Alexander, C. (eds.): Taxonomy of Cultivated
    Plants: Third Symposium, pp. 253-264. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Nishii, K., M. Hughes., M. Briggs, E. Haston, F. Christie, M.J. DeVilliers, T Hanekom, W.G.
  • Roos, D. U. Bellstedt and M. Mőller. 2015. Streptocarpus redefined to include all AfroMalagasy Gesneriaceae: Molecular Phylogenies prove congruent with geographical distribution
    and basic chromosome numbers and uncover remarkable morphological homoplasies. Taxon
    64(6): 1243-1274.
  • Roberts, E. P. 1950: A new species of Saintpaulia. – African Violet Magazine 3(2): 6-7.
  • Roberts, E. P. 1952: A key to the genus Saintpaulia. – African Violet Magazine 6: 24.
  • Smith, J. F., Kresge, M. E., Möller, M. & Cronk, Q. C. B. 1998: A cladistic analysis of ndhF
    sequences from representative species of Saintpaulia and Streptocarpus subgenera Streptocarpus
    and Streptocarpella (Gesneriaceae). – Edinburgh Journal of Botany 55 (1): 1-11.
  • Weigend, M. and T. J. Edwards 1996: The palynology of Streptocarpus and the other African
    and Malagasy Gesneriaceae and its systematical implications. – Bot. Jahrb. Syst. 118: 59-80.
  • Wendland, H. 1893: Saintpaulia ionantha. – Gartenflora 42: 321-324, Tab. 1391.


  • Anonymous 1985: African violet may disappear from the wild. – New Scientist, 2 May 1985, p.
  • Clarke, G. P. 1998: Plants in Peril, 24: Notes on lowland African Violets Saintpaulia) in the wild.
  • Curtis’s Botanical Magazine 15: 62-67.
  • Eastwood, A., Bytebier, B., Tye, H., Tye, A., Robertson, A. & Maunder, M. 1998: The
    conservation status of Saintpaulia. – Curtis’s Botanical Magazine 15: 49-62.
  • Eastwood, A. & Maunder, M. 1995: A Conservation Assessment of Saintpaulia taxa cultivated
    within the Living Collections, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Species Assessment Report No. 2.
    Unpublished RBG Kew, UK. Conservation Projects Development Unit.
  • Hertel, G. 2002: The Conservation status of Saintpaulia teitensis B.L. Burtt (Taita African
    Violet) in the forests of the Taita Hills, Kenya. – African Violet Magazine, Nov-Dec 2002: 40-
  • Kapya, J. A. 1995: Salvage of the African violet (Saintpaulia tongwensis) community at Pangani
    Falls. – Unpublished report, University of Dar es Salaam.
  • Kolehmainen, J. 2005: African violet conservation and ecotourism in Tanga Region, Tanzania. –
    African Violet Magazine 58 (5): 27-29.
  • Kolehmainen, J. 2005: Saintpaulian ekologia ja uhanalaisuus luonnossa. – Ulmus 6 (Saintpaulialehti 1/2005): 9-12.
  • Kolehmainen J. & Killenga, R. 2004: Urgent Need for Restoration of the African Violet habitat
    in the Amboni Caves, Tanga, Tanzania. – Arc Journal 16, March, 2004: 11-12.
  • Mather, S. 1986: The Mystery of the Amboni Caves. – African Violet Magazine 39(4): 53-54.
  • Mather, S. 1987: Saintpaulia Species in jeopardy. – African Violet Magazine 40(3): 30-31.
  • Mather, S. 1989: Saintpaulia. In: Hamilton, A. C. & Bensted-Smith, R. (eds.) 1989: Forest
    Conservation in the East Usambara Mountains, Tanzania. IUCN. Gland, Switzerland and
    Cambridge, UK. 392 p.
  • Miranto, M. 2005: Living Collections of Botanic Gardens as a Means of Ex situ Conservation –
    A Case Study of African Violets (Saintpaulia) in Europe. – Msc Thesis. University of Helsinki.
  • Schulman, L. & Kolehmainen, J. 2004. Saving wild African violets (Saintpaulia, Gesneriaceae):
    a review of ongoing activities and a plan for ex situ conservation. – Scripta Botanica Belgica 29:
  • Sheil, D. 1993: What future for the African Violets. – Swara 16(5): 18-21.
  • Simiyu, S. W. 1995: When not to translocate: the case of the African violet, Tanzania. – Reintroduction News 11: 13.
  • Simiyu, S. W., Muthoka, P., Jefwa, J., Bytebier, B. & Pearce, T. R. 1996: The conservation
    status of the genus Saintpaulia in Kenya. In: van der Maesen, L. J. G. et al. (eds.) 1996: The
    Biodiversity of African Plants, pp. 341-344. Kluwer Academic Publishers. The Netherlands.
  • Tengeza, A. & Githitho, A. 2009: Kachororoni Saintpaulia Conservation Project, Progress
    report, March /2009.
  • Walter, K.S. & Gillet, H.J. (eds.) 1998: 1997 IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants. Pp. 293-294.
    The IUCN Species Survival Commission.


  • Arisumi, T. 1964: Interspecific hybridization in African Violets. – Journal of Heredity 55: 181-
  • Bodner, M.& Larcher, W. 1989: Chilling susceptibility of wild Saintpaulia spp. of different
    altitudinal origin. – Angewandte Botanik 63: 501-512.
  • Clayberg, C. D. 1961: Hybridizing with the African Violet Species. – African Violet Magazine
  • Cole, C. 1994: Insect and Mite Pests of African Violets. Becker Printing, Beaumont, TX.
  • Dümmer, R. A. 1912: Peloria in Saintpaulia ionantha, Wendland. – Ann. Bot. 26: 946-947.
  • Ehrlich, H.G. 1956: Cytological studies in Saintpaulia Wendl. (Gesneriacea). Ph.D Thesis,
    University of Minnesota.
  • Faust, J. E. & Heins, R. D. 1994: Modeling inflorescence development of the African violet
    (Saintpaulia ionantha Wendl.). – Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science 119
    (4): 727-734.
  • Griesbach, R. J. 1998: Flavonoids in Saintpaulia ionantha expressing the fantasy mutation. –
    Phytochemistry, Oxford 48 (5): 829-830.
  • Huber, E. 1953: Beitrag zur anatomischen Untersuchung der Antheren von Saintpaulia. –
    Sitzungsber. Österr. Akad. Wiss. Math. – Naturv. Kl. Abt. 1, 162.
    Ives, W. and J. Smith. 1992: A comparison of leaf anthocyanins in genus Saintpaulia. –
    AfricanViolet Magazine 47(2): 54-56.
  • Lo, K.H. 1997: Factors affecting shoot organogenesis in leaf disc culture of African violet. –
    Scientia Horticulturae 72: 49-57.
  • Moore, H. E. 1957: African Violets, Gloxinias and Their Relatives, A Guide to the Cultivated
    Gesneriads. The Macmillan Co, New York. 323 p.
  • Naylor, E. E. & Johnson, B. 1937: A histological study of vegetative reproduction in Saintpaulia.
    – American Journal of Botan 14: 673.
  • Reed, S. C. 1954: African Violet Genetics. – Journal of Heredity 45, 225-230.
  • Robey, M. J. 1980: African violets – Queens of the Indoor Gardening Kingdom. The Tantivy
    Press. 199 p.
  • Robey, M. J. 1988: African violets, gifts from nature. Cornwall Books, New York.
  • Smith, J. L. 1990: Chemical analysis of the flower pigments in African violets: Part I – African
    Violet Magazine, May 1990, p. 18.
  • Smith, J. L. 1990: Chemical analysis of the flower pigments in African violets: PART II –
    African Violet Magazine, Jul 1990, p. 17.
  • Smith, J. L. 1990: Genetic model of flower color inheritance in African violets – African Violet
    Magazine, Sep 1990, p. 37.
  • Smith, J. L. 1991. A chemical analysis of the flower pigments in African violets: Part III. –
    African Violet Magazine 44(6): 20-22.
  • Wilson, H. van Pelt, 1953: The complete book of African violets. M. Barrows and Co., New
    York. 299 p.
  • Wilson, J. H. 1898: Observations on the flowers, fruit, and seedlings of Saintpaulia ionantha,
    Wend. – Botanisch Jaarboek 10: 86-108.


These articles may be of particular interest to those most interested in research and scientific studies.

  •  Goretsky, W, 2016: The Reclassification of Saintpaulia – an Interview with Michael Moeller. African Violet Magazine 69(5): 46-48.
  •  Nishii, K., M. Hughes., M. Briggs, E. Haston, F. Christie, M.J. DeVilliers, T Hanekom, W.G. Roos, D. U. Bellstedt and M. Mőller. 2015. Streptocarpus redefined to include all AfroMalagasy Gesneriaceae: Molecular Phylogenies prove congruent with geographical distribution and basic  chromosome numbers and uncover remarkable morphological homoplasies. Taxon 64(6): 1243-1274.
  • Christenhusz, M.J.J. 2012.  On African violets and Cape primroses – towards a monophyletic Streptocarpus (Gesneriaceae).  Phytotaxa 46: 3-9.
  • Smith, J., Pershing, B., Price, B. 2008: Saintpaulia Species and their Identification Numbers: History, Present and Future. African Violet Magazine 61(6): 42-44.