|a Saintpaulia ionantha plant|
Saintpaulias, commonly known as African violets, are a genus of 6–20 species of herbaceous perennial flowering plants in the family Gesneriaceae, native to Tanzania and adjacent southeastern Kenya in eastern tropical Africa. Typically the African violet is a common household indoor plant but can also be an outdoor plant. Several of the species and subspecies are endangered, and many more are threatened, due to their native cloud forest habitats being cleared for agriculture.
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 have a fleshy texture. The flowers are 2–3 cm in diameter, with a five-lobed velvety corolla ("petals"), and grow in clusters of 3–10 or more on slender stalks called peduncles. Wild species can have violet, purple, pale blue, or white flowers.
The genus is named after Baron Walter von Saint Paul-Illaire (1860–1910), the district commissioner of Tanga province who discovered the plant in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) in Africa in 1892 and sent seeds back to his father, an amateur botanist in Germany. Two British plant enthusiasts, Sir John Kirk and Reverend W.E. Taylor, had earlier collected and submitted specimens to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in 1884 and 1887 respectively, but the quality of specimens was insufficient to permit scientific description at that time. The genus Saintpaulia, and original species S. ionantha, were scientifically described by H. Wendland in 1893.
Revisions of the genus by B.L. Burtt expanded the genus to approximately 20 species. Due to recent studies which showed most of the species to be very poorly differentiated, both genetically and morphologically, the number of species has been reduced to six, with the majority of former species reduced to subspecies under S. ionantha, in a recent floristic treatment. As of 2009, 9 species, 8 subspecies, and 2 varieties have been recognized.
Old name vs. current name
- Saintpaulia amaniensis = S. ionantha ssp. grotei
- Saintpaulia brevipilosa = S. ionantha ssp. velutina
- Saintpaulia confusa = S. ionantha ssp. grotei
- Saintpaulia difficilis = S. ionantha ssp. grotei
- Saintpaulia diplotricha = S. ionantha ssp. ionantha var. diplotricha
- Saintpaulia grandifolia = S. ionantha ssp. grandifolia
- Saintpaulia grotei = S. ionantha ssp. grotei
- Saintpaulia intermedia = S. ionantha ssp. pendula
- Saintpaulia magungensis = S. ionantha ssp. grotei
- Saintpaulia magungensis var. minima = S. ionantha ssp. grotei
- Saintpaulia magungensis var. occidentalis = S. ionantha ssp. occidentalis
- Saintpaulia nitida = S. ionantha ssp. nitida
- Saintpaulia orbicularis = S. ionantha ssp. orbicularis
- Saintpaulia pendula = S. ionantha ssp. pendula
- Saintpaulia pendula var. kizarae = S. ionantha ssp. pendula
- Saintpaulia rupicola = S. ionantha ssp. rupicola
- Saintpaulia tongwensis = S. ionantha ssp. ionantha var. ionantha
- Saintpaulia velutina = S. ionantha ssp. velutina
The genus is most closely related to Streptocarpus, with recent phylogenetic studies suggesting it has evolved directly from subgenus Streptocarpella.
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.
In culture 
African Violets have long been attributed to mothers and motherhood. For this reason they have been a traditional gift to mothers in many cultures around the world.
- Smithsonian World Checklist of the Gesneriaceae
- Darbyshire (2006) Saintpaulia, pp. 50-72, in Beentjy & Ghazanfar (eds), Fl. Trop. East Africa
- Pilon F (2012) Saintpaulia. The history and origin of the African Violet.
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