Saintpaulia, commonly known as African violet, is a genus of 6 species of herbaceous perennial flowering plants in the family Gesneriaceae, native to Tanzania and adjacent southeastern Kenya in eastern tropical Africa, with a concentration of species in the Nguru mountains of Tanzania. The genus is most closely related to Streptocarpus, with recent phylogenetic studies suggesting it has evolved directly from subgenus Streptocarpella. The common name was given due to a superficial resemblance to true violets (Viola, family Violaceae).
Saintpaulias grow from 6-15 cm tall and can be anywhere from 6-30 cm wide. The leaves are rounded to oval, 2.5-8.5 cm long with a 2-10 cm petiole, finely hairy, and with a fleshy texture. The flowers are 2-3 cm diameter, with a five-lobed velvety corolla ("petals"), and grow in clusters of 3-10 or more on slender stalks (peduncles). Flower colour in the wild species can be violet, purple, pale blue, or white.
Several of the species and subspecies are endangered, and many more are threatened, due to clearance of their native cloud forest habitat for agriculture.
African violets are widely cultivated as house plants. Until recently, only a few of these species have been used in breeding programs for the hybrids available in the market; most available as house plants are cultivars derived from African violet ionantha (syn. S. kewensis). A wider range of species is now being looked at as sources of genes to introduce into modern cultivars.
Over 2,000 cultivars have been selected for horticultural use. There are many different leaf and flower types found; cultivars are classified as Large, Standard, Trailing, Semi-mini, Mini, and Micro with Micro being the smallest. They range in flower colour from white, pink, violet, yellow, and some even green, and the flowers may be either single (five petals) or double (more than five, with some or all of the stamens converted into extra petals). Flowers are not always a solid colour, but can also be found in the "fantasy" variety where the petals have strips of colours going down them. One interesting flower form found in the African Violet are known as a "wasp"; these flowers have the upper two flower petals independently fused forming a tube. There are also compound leaves on some, that are called "bustled".
Actual Image Source: African Violet Society of Qld Inc.