The following is an article I wrote which was just published in the Nov/December 2016 African Violet Society magazine
IF I COULD HAVE ONLY ONE AFRICAN VIOLET
So thankful and blessed I am not forced into this position
with plenty of space to house my ever growing collection. But what if?
Can you even imagine? There is so
much choice in today’s choices with First Class software showing over 18,000
Let’s see, do I want to pick a large standard, a standard,
a compact standard, semi miniature, or miniature. How about chimeras? Then there is the choice of regular or
variegated foliage, and within the variegated “category” is mosaic, crowned and
Just trying to make this decision is a challenge. Now the flower colors. Blue, purple, pink, red, lavender, white, green,
yellow and all shades and combinations in between. This
does not look like it is going to get easier.
The AVSA Handbook for Growers, Exhibitors, and Judges
lists African violet blossom types as:
Single, double, semi double flowers with frilled, pansy,
star, ruffled , bell, fantasy, fringed, edged, Geneva, bicolor, tri color and
wasp to list most of them and I am sure I am leaving out several more flower types. Then there are
combinations within this group. Choices,
Next can we make a choice on foliage types? African violet foliage ranges in color from
light green through dark burgundy green with markings on variegated foliage
adding white, cream, light yellow, grey, and rosy shades from light pink to
deep wine red. Besides foliage color the
leaves make the plant so distinctive.
The more common foliage types are:
Plain or tailored also known as standard or boy type
Girl foliage with deeply scalloped leaves, usually rounded
or heart-shaped with white to yellow markings at the base of each leaf which
can extend to the leaf blades or edges of the leaf
Holly foliage. (I
love this foliage but hope I am not giving away my choice) This is heavily
crested leaves with the leaf edges curled forward or bent back with exaggerated
wavy edges resembling holly leaves in form.
Longifolia or Spider foliage are narrow pointed strap-like
leaves with plain or wavy edges. Interesting
Quilted leaves have distinct raised areas between the
veins and all sorts of variations.
Ruffled, Fringed, Wavy and fluted leaves add to the
choices. These have serrated or ragged
Supreme leaves are thick, hairy, and quilted with strong
Spooned leaves are another favorite of mine with leaves
cupped up like a spoon. Gee, again, I
hope I am not giving away my choice. But
as I questioned in the first paragraph…..can you imagine?
So much has happened just within my lifetime. Although the ten original hybrids introduced
by the greenhouses of Armacost & Royston were before my time. Pink flowers, and then untold colors of every
hue have been released. Non dropping
flowers or “stick tights occurred in 1965, Miniature and semi miniature plants
came into existence. I can still
remember the sensation Tommie Lou, the first variegated violet, caused in the
horticultural community. Can you imagine, the Tinari’s were asking an
outrageous $1.25 for a plant of this while everything else was being sold for 45
to 65 cents? I am thankful, I still have
several of their catalogs.
Every year new
developments occur. Flowers bigger than
golf balls are not uncommon. Additional
flower stems for more flowers are showing up on newer hybrids. My garden center
customers ask for ever bigger flowers and for scented ones. Is this in the future?
But, there is ONE plant or certainly a small number of
plants with all this beauty hidden in its genetics. That plant is the one found in Nature.
ionantha, the original African violet, and perhaps a
couple of others, have contributed all this beauty we enjoy today. Who could imagine everything we enjoy today
about modern day African violets is hidden within the makeup of this
species? I can just look at this simple little violet
and imagine all the beauty and history within. You can’t do that with any of the
hybrids. It rightfully deserves a choice
spot in my collection.
I can look at this plant and envision Baron Walter von
Saint Paul trekking his way through virgin cloud forest in Tanzania in 1892. Feasting his eyes on this little forest
dwelling hairy leafed beauty, I am sure he had no idea what impact it would
have in modern day ornamental horticultural circles. I can see him with a bag
full of unseen plants at the time. I
reflect back on my experiences collecting plants in South America, Central
America, Mexico, Asia, and Africa, now no longer legal in most countries. I so miss it.
I wonder how Baron
St. Paul ever got the seeds or plants shipped to his father in Germany as there
certainly was not the post office or FedEx back then. The airplane had not even been invented. Lucky for us his father was well connected in
horticultural circles and shared his plants.
Plants were soon being offered in Germany and England, and I am sure spread
rapidly throughout Europe.
It is reported that as early as 1893 the first
commercially produced plants were being offered by a man known as Ernst Benary,
of Erfurt, Germany.
In 1926, Armacost & Royston of Los Angeles, California
imported African violet seeds from Europe.
They used the resulting plants to develop ten new hybrids??? This
leaves a question in my mind, did “Walter” collect and distribute other species
and just what was in the original shipment that A & M received from
Europe? Hope they did not have as much
trouble getting the plants or seeds thru USDA in California as I have
experienced. Thankfully, the original
ten clones made by A & M are still available today. Admiral, Amethyst, Blue Boy, Commodore,
Mermaid, Neptune, Norseman, Sailor Boy, Viking and # 32. All of these are on my “must acquire list”
along with the species S. pusilla. .
Although no one will ever know if the violets my great
aunt and grandmother grew on their windowsills in Kansas back in the 40’s and
50’s was an actual species or an early
hybrid, I can still feel the pride and enjoyment they received from having this
exotic tropical beauty enhance their lives particularly in the dead of
winter. I will forever wonder how and
when they ever arrived in Kansas, and more particularly to the small town of
Otis. Thank you Aunt Leah and “Grams”
for instilling the love of plants and the beauty of Nature within me.
It is amazing and a reflection of the need for man to
tinker, tweak and modify things around him.
The African violet has been in the hands of collectors and growers for
almost 130 years. This simple blue
flowered plant has been transformed into a plant I am sure today “Walter” would
have a hard time recognizing as the outcome of his discovery.
I hope I have inspired others to share some space on their
windowsills for the species.
On a footnote: It is my understanding that African violets
in the wild were never an abundant species.
They are now endangered or possibly critically endangered if not some possibly
undiscovered species extinct due to ever occurring habitat loss and the simple
gathering of wood for fuel. Possibly
other factors are also in play. I must
disagree with environmentalists that swear plant collection is the
culprit. I find this extremely difficult
to believe since the plants are so easy to propagate in cultivation. But for whatever reason, we should all save a
space on our shelves for at least one species.
Let’s don’t let them disappear.
Tropical World Nursery
Loxahatchee Groves, Fl.
We combine orders on Ebay as well as our own website and ship plants on Monday, Tuesday and Saturday weather permitting in your area. Expect delays if forcasts are above 94 or below 40 in your area. Hardgoods go out same or next day. 10 sets of leaves will ship for same postage as one set. We include extra when you order 3 or more sets of leaves. 2 or more plants will usually ship for same postage as one.