Today is the 50th anniversary of the independence of Tanganyika Territory from Britain - an event celebrated and commemorated as Uhuru, meaning freedom or emancipation in Swahili. Tanganyika united with Zanzibar in 1964 to become Tanzania, the country I regard as my second home. I wish its citizens well on this special day.
To mark the occasion I thought it would be interesting to think of two important horticultural plants originating in Tanzania, the African Violet Saintpaulia ionantha and Busy-lizzie, Impatiens walleriana. Most of the country is too low-lying and hot for its plants to be cultivable in anything but very specialised conditions, but the mountains rise to more temperate elevations. Although there are true alpines on the highest peaks they have also proved to be impossible to cultivate successfully, and these two species come from forested areas that are warm, but not too warm.
Saintpaulia was soon recognised to be a useful ornamental plant, with the German nurseryman Ernst Benary offering plants in the 1890s, but the potential of African Violets as houseplants was not realised until the Californian nursery Armacost and Royston released a series of named and possibly hybrid cultivars in 1926, including the famous 'Blue Boy'. Its popularity increased after the Second World War, when African Violets became incredibly popular and breeding and selection took them to new levels. In Britain Rochfords, the great houseplant specialist, and the breeder Tony Clements popularised them, and with their ease of propagation (poking a leaf through tinfoil into a jar of water) they were easily passed around. These days their star has waned, though they are still ubiquitously available: I saw a pair of plants shivering on the pavement outside the Cirencester pet shop yesterday.
Looking back it now seems very odd that in my youth Impatiens walleriana was still recommended as a houseplant for growing in pots, to be propagated in much the same was as Saintpaulia and, like it, passed around via plant stalls at church fetes. The development of the Busy-lizzie from a rather gawky potplant to a universal dumpy, floriferous bedding plant in the past three decades has not, to my knowledge, been properly explored and documented.
|Busy-lizzies in the garden of Graham Hardie, |