Save the Wild Saintpaulia

All of today’s modern African violet hybrids have common ancestors–the species Saintpaulia found in eastern Africa.  Though African violets remain America’s favorite flowering houseplant, the speciesSaintpaulia is fast disappearing from it’s native habitat.

How can you help?  One easy way is to begin growing some of the species as part of your collection.  Another is to help protect their native environment from disappearing.

Should you be interested in the latter, keep reading…..

Searching for the wild African violet:

Kenya an Tanzania, East Africa, are well know tourist destinations and many people are aware of the fabulous wildlife parks like the Masai Mara, Serengeti National Park, and Ngorongoro Crater.  Maybe the most famous wildlire site is the 3 million-plus wildebeest migration over the Serengeti and Masai Lara.  Lets move up to 19,340 feet.

Snow-covered Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania looks over both countries.  If you stood atop the Kilimanjaro and look to the east and scanned to the south, you would see the Eastern Arc Mountains and the coastal forests of Kenya and Tanzania where the last remaining populations of African violets live.  These mountains and forests are designated as one of 24 biodiversity hotspots in the world!  African violets are indeed ambassadors for the Eastern Arc mountains and coastal forests.  The offspring of 2 or 3 of the 22 wild species have been commercialized into the 20,000 or more varieties that so many people have come to love so much.  Next time you look at the violet, think about where they came from and the people who live there.  Let’s look in on one place where the violet comes from.

We will go to Mbololo Forest (part of the Taita Hills, Eastern Arc Mountains) near Voi, Kena.  Voi is a busy town located on the Nairobi-Mombasa Highway.  Coming from Nairobi you would see Mbololo on your right just before getting to Voi.  This 400-acre forest fragment jumps out of the flat and dry Tsavo plains where the elephant still roams free.  It takes about 1 1/2 hours to drive the base of the mountain and then up steep, rough road to the entrance of the forest.  There, families struggle to live off of the land.  There are modest homes, schools, small farms, and churches.  The energy of each family member is used to grow food, take care of any grazing animals, collect firewood (there only energy supply), and obtain water.  The opportunity to make money is limited.  They might, on a good day, make $1.00!!  But they are blessed by the forest they live near.

They have closed-canopy Mbololo Forest where they live.  As rainstorms and water-filled clouds move by, the forest collects the water that is so important to the people and violets.  Not only the local people benefit from the watershed, but also the people who live in the foothills of the mountain.  The people could not live without the forests.  Neither could the violets.  The water and shade of the forest is just what the violet needs to survive.  Lets walk into the forest to see the violets.

It’s a hard up-and-down hill walk of about 30 minutes on an old road until we reach a small trail the enters into the forest.  After 5 minutes, we drop down around the edge of a southeast-facing cliff under a tree canopy that allow very little light to enter.  At the base of the 50-foot cliff we look up and the rock-face is covered by the violet, Saintpaulia teitensis!  What a fantastic sight.  The flowers are dark blue and there can be 4-8 per stalk.  The leaves are thick and leathery in texture.  The leaves are dark green, often with raised veins, leaf margins are smooth, and the underside can be red.  What a beautiful site this is.

Excerpted from a letter by Gerald Hertel, Professor of Forest Ecology, Dept. of Biology, West Chester University of Pennsylvania

For more information on the Eastern Arc Mountains, and the wild Saintpaulia:

How and where to help:
Note: Other than having made donations ourselves, The Violet Barn is not affiliated in any way with the following organizations.  We provide this information only as a “public service” and because we believe in supporting a “good cause”.

The East African Wildlife Society
The people who live in the vicinity of the forest need to survive and, as much as they appreciate the forest, they cannot continue to protect it without some help.  That is where you can.  Funds are needed for fuel-efficient stoves, to provide technical assistance to maintain agriculture production, to help develop tree nurseries, to pay people to plant and restore the forests that have already been removed.  Based upon recent DNA analyses of Saintpaulia spp, the violet in Mbololo should be a high priority for conservation.  The East African Wildlife Society is already on the ground in Kenya assisting the local people.  Tax-deductible donations can be directed to them through the WILD Foundation, at  or at PO Box 1380, Ojai, CA, 93024.

The African Rainforest Conservancy
In Tanzania, the African Rainforest Conservancy ( provides funding to their Tanzanian Forest Conservation Group (TFCG) to help local villagers there.  Most of the African violet sites are located in Tanzania.  Two sites should be classed as high-priority for conservation–the Ulugura and Nguru Mountains, based upon DNA analyses of the genus Saintpaulia.  TFCG is already working on the ground in the Nguru Mountains.  Tax-deductible donations can be made to them at 560 Broadway, Suite 202, New York, NY 10012.

One comment

  • So sad! We see this in Texas USA too! A plant becomes popular and then unscrupulous collectors go out in the wild and take them! So sad! Propagate them! Do not steal the wild plants! I am a member of the Native Plant Society and love our native plants. Wildlife need them! Let’s preserve our environment for future generations!

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