The History of African Violets
In the late 1800's, Baron Walter von Saint Paul was serving as Governor of East German Africa. While there, he found a very unusual variety of flowering plants growing among the foothills and peaks of the Usambara Mountains. There mountains are located 100 miles from the east coast of Africa, reach 8,800 to 9,000 feet above sea level and extend for 75 to 80 miles. The plaints were found clinging to cracks and crevices of rock cliffs as high as 6,500 feet. At the lower elevations in tropical valleys, they grow more abundantly. Temperature and humidity are always very high where they are found thriving in nature.
The Baron collected several plaints in the northern area of Tanzania. In 1892 he sent seed from them to his father in Germany, who shared the plaints with members of the Royal Botanic Gardens of Germany. It was there that it was determined that an entirely new species had been discovered. The name chosen was Saintpaulia ionatha, the first part of the name honoring it's discover, the second part referring to the flowers as appearing like true violets (even though the two plaints are not related).
During the 1893 International Horticulture Show, African violets shared the spotlight with another newly-discovered exotic - the orchid. Twenty-seven different species of African violets have been given names all of which are native to the African Continent. There are many tropical plants ranging in size from a petite two inches to other several feet tall, closely related to African violets, including gloxinia, streptocarpus, columnea, sinningia, episcia, and achimenes.
Around 1894 the first African violets arrived in the United States. The popularity of the little plants lagged of many years because very little was known about them or the care they needed. In 1927, the Armacost and Royston Nursery in Los Angeles ordered seeds from England and Germany. From these seeds, approximately 1,000 plants were grown. Of there, 10 were selected as the best for use in developing new, improved varieties. Two of the ten selected came from the Germany seed, "Blue Boy" and "Sailor Boy." The other eight were from English seeds; "Admiral," "Amethyst," "Commodore," "Mermaid," Neptune," Norseman," "Number 32," and "Viking." Hybridization has given the African violet hobbyist hundreds of varieties from whitch to choose, all derived from the original choosen ten.