The Saintpaulia ionantha was discovered in 1892 during the time when plantation owner Walter von Saint-Paul-Illaire was living in German East Africa, today known as Tanzania.  He found the Saintpaulia ionantha in the wooded Usambara mountains located southeast of Lake /Victoria near the border of Kenya.  The German name "Usambara Violet" was derived from the place where the plant was originally found.

Walter von Saint-Paul-Illaire probably sent seeds of the African Violet to his father in Germany during the summer of 1892.  His father, Marshal of the Court Baron Ulrich von Saint-Paul-Illaire was an eager amateur grower.  He sowed the tiny seeds in his greenhouse at his hometown of Fischbach.  After they had germinated, he cultivated the plants until they bloomed.  At that time he could not have anticipated the enormous popularity his little "protégés" would know one day.

The Master Gardener of the Herrenhaus Greenhouses, Hermann Wendland, received seeds and plants samples from Baron von Saint-Paul-Illaire in the fall of 1892.  Mr. Wendland described the African Violet for the first time in the journal
Gartenflora, Berlin in 1893 and in Möllers Deutsche Gärtner-Zeitung, Erfurt on May 20, 1893 (edition 16, volume 8).

Baron Walter von Saint-Paul-Illaire

Hermann Wendland

In honor of the flower's discoverer, Saint-Paul-Illnaire, Hermann Wendland named the new plant species "Saintpaulia ionantha."  The word ionantha is derived from two Greek roots ion (meaning "blue violet") and anthas ("flower").  Technically, though the flower has come to be known as an African Violet, it is not really a violet.  Whereas the genus Viola derives from the Violaceae family, the Saintpaulia belongs to the Gesneriad family.

The Herrenhauser Botanical Garden exhibited the
Saintpaulia for the first time at the Fifth Center Floral Show, April 16-25, 1893.  Immediately, it caught the attention of experts and visitors, and was designated the most interesting new plant of this prestigious European horticulture show.

In addition to the
Saintpaulia ionantha, 23 other wild Saintpaulia species are known.  Their discoveries were recorded by the botanists B.L. Burtt, Engler and E.P. Roberts from 1900 to 1964.

Original variety "Saintpaulia ionantha"