Saintpaulia (Saint PAWL ee a) named for Baron Adalbert Emil Walter Redcliffe Le Tanneaux von Saint Paul-Illaire who first discovered the African violet.
The baron was an avid plant collector and found the first African violet in 1892 while living in German East Africa, modern Tanzania. He probably sent seeds in his greenhouse. The plants were an immediate success and arrived in America in 1894. They had the reputation of being difficult to raise but became popular again when florescent lights were invented and used to supply light in the dark winter months.
African violets belong to the family Gesneriaceae that includes 150 genera and over 3000 species most of which are native to the tropics and subtropics. Also in the Gesneriaceae are the florist Gloxinia, and the lesser known cupid’s bower (Achimenes), lipstick plant (Aeschynanthus), goldfish plant (Nematanthus), and cape primrose (Streptocarpus). The African violet discovered by the baron was named Saintpaulia ionantha, the specific name derived from the Greek ion meaning blue violet, and anthas meaning flower. There are twenty three other species of Santpaulia in the wild. African violets are not true violets which are in a different family, Violaceae