African Violet — 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 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 Saintpaulia 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”.
Saintpaulias can be propagated by leaf cuttings (essential for propagating named cultivars) or seed (from which new cultivars are selected). African violets prefer a constant temperature between 20-25°C (68F-77F) with high humidity, and thrive best planted in well-drained humus or coir compost.