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African violet (Saintpaulia)

African violet (Saintpaulia)
Photo: Jardin botanique de Montréal (Gilles Murray)


The African violet is a member of the family Gesneriaceae (or Gesneriads).

It was discovered by Baron Walter Von Saint-Paul in 1892 and, upon its introduction in Europe, was baptized Saintpaulia ionantha. The genus Saintpaulia was named after its discoverer and the species name, ionantha, is Greek, meaning “having flowers like the violet's.”

From that point on, the common name of “African violet” became popular, giving the impression that the genus is related to the true violet, Viola. In fact, the two genera are very different, botanically speaking.


There are numerous species of Saintpaulia, although few of them are actually cultivated. Most plants sold on the market are hybrids derived from Saintpaulia ionantha.

Because of its small size, the ease with which it blooms in the home and the wide variety of cultivars and hybrids available, the African violet has long been one of the most popular flowering house plants.

African violets come in shades of white, blue, purple, coral, pink and even yellow. The petals may be bicoloured, ruffled or even double. The various shades of green foliage may also be variegated. The leaf margins are sometimes finely serrated, ruffled or lobed. Finally, there are a number of miniature and hanging cultivars available.

A common complaint among amateur growers is the difficulty of maintaining beautiful flowers. However, provided that an African violet is given the proper growing conditions, it is relatively easy to obtain good results.

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