In the Wild ...

Violets

By Mary T. Harrington

                Spring and Violets for me are synonymous. They dot the brown and gray landscape with beautiful blue-purple, yellow and white showy petals. They pave the way for the deluge of flowers and color that invariably follow their appearance. In fact of the nearly 250 Violets worldwide, 85 are found in the North American continent with most of these in the East.

Violets (Viola sp.) are characterized as a low-lying plant that is capable of growing in variety of habitats despite its preference for shady woods. The leaves are often heart shaped but not always, Birdsfoot Violet (Viola pedata) is an example of this.  The flowers have five petals and sepals. The upper petals act as wide area literally guiding insects to land where the nectar awaits. The lower petal is a hollow spur. But did you know that Violets have two flowers each season? The second flower hidden under the leaves of the plant is rarely seen and usually blooms in early summer, long after the spring flower is gone. What is interesting about this second flower is that it is self-contained and not open to cross-pollination. The seeds it produces are self-pollinated and exact replicas of the parent. It is no wonder that this is such a prolific plant!

There is a considerable amount of folklore regarding this wonderful plant. Zeus was said to have changed the tears of his mistress, the nymph Io, into Violets. The Romans would circle their heads with wreaths of this flower believing it would dispel drunkenness. During his first exile, Napoleon used the Violet as symbol of his promise to return. The Violet has also been symbol of modesty, simplicity, humility and constancy in love.

The Violet has been used medicinally for centuries. The leaves are loaded with vitamins A and C and were often added to salads. The leaves and flowers were also used as a cough remedy particularly in conditions that affected the bronchial areas. It is said to be effective in clearing catarrh. The roots in large doses act as an emetic. This plant is being researched for remedial effects it may be having on certain skin cancers.

Solitary bees are the primary pollinator for Violets. Violet seeds are favored by upland game birds like Mourning Dove, Ruffed Grouse, Bobwhite and Wild Turkey.  This is also a food source for Cottontail Rabbits, Juncos and White-footed mice.

Violet is the state flower of Illinois, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Wisconsin

Mary T. Harrington

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