African violet no more!

I am a huge African violet nut.  Huge.  African violets belong to the family Gesneriaceae and belong in the genus Saintpaulia.  Until recently taxonomist have pretty much left this genus of plants alone.  At one time there was about 21 recognized species of African violets until a few years ago when the “Great Merger” occurred.  This reduced the species down to nine.  All was well with the world and most African violet enthusiast accepted this change with little hesitation.

African violet 'King of Clubs'
African violet ‘King of Clubs’

The only constant in change.  As we ring in 2018 we say good-bye to the genus Saintpaulia and say hello to Streptocarpus subgenus Streptocarpella section Saintpaulia.  This change was brought upon due to recent DNA studies that found that Saintpaulia did not have enough genetic difference to warrant their own genus. Now you may be familiar with Streptocarpus that go by the common name Cape Primrose or African Primrose and sometimes seen in garden centers or floral shops.  You may have even purchases a Streptocarpella as an annual that you’ve used in your hanging baskets.

But wait, there’s more.

Within Latin, words can be feminine or masculine.  Saintpaulia ionantha (African violet) the ending ia in the genus name is feminine.  With the move over to Streptocarpus with the ending us is masculine.  Some endings of species names needed to be changed to be consistent with the use of Latin.  So the long name of the African violet is: Streptocarpus subgenus Streptocarpella sec. Saintpaulia ionanthus. The short name would appear as Streptocarpus ionanthus.      

So what does this mean to you?  Nothing.  But knowing the relationship where the plant falls in the family tree will allow you better appreciation where it came from.

Scott Evans
Scott Evans is a horticulture assistant with Nebraska Extension in Douglas-Sarpy Counties. A certified arborist through International Society of Arboirculture and Nebraska Arborist Association. Scott is also Tree Risk Assessment Qualified through ISA. Scott co-leads the Master Gardener program in Douglas & Sarpy counties. Along with volunteer management he provides his expertise with disease and insect identification, lawn and landscape weed management, plant health, and I.P.M. practices. He also enjoys growing many houseplants ranging from African violets to cacti and succulents. Scott has two Bachelors of Science, one in Biology (emphasis in Botany, Ecology and Environmental Science) and second in Environmental Geology from Northwest Missouri State University. He earned his Master of Agriculture from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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