Sometimes you associate a plant with a particular person. African violets are indelibly linked in my mind with my Great-aunt Bessie. She loved plants. She did not have an easy life. She was born on a Welsh mountain, but was sent to work in service in London after the deaths of her mother and young brother from Tuberculosis. She was evacuated from London in the Blitz with several young children. In her later years, she was famed for her outstanding balcony displays of flowers outside her London maisonette, overlooking one of the busiest junctions on the Fulham Road in London. She had quite a collection of house plants indoors too. Her purple and pink African Violets stick in my mind. Whenever I see them, I think of her.
Easy to propagate
African Violets are compact pot plants that fit easily on a window sill. The flowering season is long – in fact, they do not appear to have a specific timing. They can be found flowering at Christmas. Colours include pink, purple, blue, red and white. They are available in both single and double varieties, plus some with frilly petal edges. The leaves are fascinatingly hairy to the touch with reddish undersides and stems. They are easy to propagate from leaf cuttings. They require care to get the balance of light, water, humidity and feeding just right. Evidently, my Great-aunt Bessie had the knack.
You will probably still find African Violets labelled as Saintpaulia in garden centres. They are now officially included in the Streptocarpus genus. Taxonomists place them in the section Saintpaulia within the Streptocarpus subgenus of Streptocarpella. One of the species epithets is ionantha, meaning with violet-like flowers. While the flowers may look like Violets, they are unrelated. They are members of the Gesneriaceae family rather than Violaceae. They are truly African however, as native to Tanzania.
Threatened in the Wild
Habitat loss and population fragmentation are huge threats to wild African Violets. Over-collection by the horticultural trade and botanists is perceived as an additional issue. Various African Violet species are listed as Critically Endangered (CR), Endangered (EN), Vulnerable (VU) and Near Threatened (NT) in the wild by the IUCN.
African Violet Fever
Although collected by Baron Saint Paul in 1892, the African Violet did not gain in popularity until after the Second World War and the development of robust cultivars. African Violet fever took hold in the 1960s and 1970s in Britain. A tradition grew up to give the plant as a Mothers’ Day gift. Today, it is perhaps seen as an old-fashioned plant choice. Nonetheless, the African Violet still has its stalwart enthusiasts.
House Plants in 2020
House plants have seen a huge sales increase in 2020. They have been a godsend to those without access to a garden. Greenery brightens the home. It offers some light relief from staring at four walls day after day. The Coronavirus shutdowns have demonstrated how much people need plants for their mental and physical well-being. Tending to house plants has brought joy and a welcome distraction in a tough year.
© Karen Andrews
References and Further Reading
- African Violet Society of America (AVSA) (2020): A Brief History of the African Violet.
- Eastwood, A. et al. (1998): The Conservation Status of Saintpaulia. Curtis’s Botanical Magazine. Vol. 15, No. 1 (February 1998), pp. 49-62. https://www.jstor.org/stable/45065280
- Floral Daily (2020): UK Houseplant sales boom in July. 8 September 2020.
- Garden Centre Association (GCA) (2020): Garden centre customers find happiness in house plants in October. 30 November 2020.
- Knight, Tom (2013-2020): African violet (Saintpaulia) Guide. Our House Plants.
- RHS (2020): African violet. RHS Gardening.
Karen does not seek or receive any commercial interest or advantage from this blog. She is not promoting any business venture. She simply loves to share fascinating facts about plants. These pages illustrate her love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. This blog is designed as a showcase for photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics. Viewpoints are her own, not those of her employer.
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