According to language of flowers so popular during the 1800’s, the violet represents modesty and decency, qualities sorely lacking in modern society some would argue. There may be 500 or more species of violets as not only does this family include sweet violets, bedding violas and pansies but its members are naturally rather promiscuous and have also been crossed by breeders. Violets are mostly native to temperate Northern Hemisphere regions and the ones most commonly found in our yards probably originated in Europe.

Pansies by Lisa Rivers

Most violets are small perennial plants although some are annuals. Small clumps of heart to kidney-shaped leaves grow from compact stoloniferous rootstocks.  Half-inch flowers may be purple, bluish, white, yellow, pink, maroon, bicolored or speckled. Solitary flowers arise from leaf axils in April and May and consist of 5 sepals and 5 petals.

Violet ‘Freckles’ by dmp2016

Violet flowers are rather curious. We notice the flowers above ground but there are also hidden flowers beneath the soil surface of several species that never open but self-pollinate and produce fertile seeds in large numbers. These flowers are called cleistogamous flowers and they are why we often find so many violet seedlings each year surrounding our established plants. The seeds may be ejected several feet away from the parent plant as well which explains why violets can so easily spread throughout a lawn area.  

Common purple violet. Photo by dmp2016

Not all violets are fragrant although the ones that are can take me back to my younger days helping Grandma gather bouquets of sweet violets (Viola odorata) from her garden. The most common blue violet (V. sororia) which spreads vigorously throughout my gardens and lawn, and probably yours as well, has no scent that I can detect.  

Lore and legends surrounding violets go back at least to the times of the ancient Greeks when Zeus turned his lover, Io, into a heifer to protect her from the jealous Hera. He provided her with pastures filled with violets to feast on. The flower was, at one time, a symbol for Athens.

Violets were also a love token between Napoleon and his empress Josephine and later became his political emblem. During troubadour times in Toulouse, France, they were given as a poetry prize and in the Middle Ages in southern Germany, discovery of the first violets of spring was celebrated in dance.

Violet bouquet from http://www.depositphotos.com

Ancient herbalists Herodotus and Pliny ascribed medical virtues to violets, and they were recommended for gout and spleen disorders and in later times used to treat respiratory disorders. The leaves and flowers were found to have both antiseptic and expectorant properties. Flowers also contain vitamins A and C as well as some antioxidants.

The flowers of the sweet violet (V. odorata) are edible and have been used for garnishes and in salads, jams, jellies, liqueurs and baked goods. They are often candied and used as decorations on cakes, chocolates and other sweets. Other species are edible as well but be sure to positively identify plants before consuming. 

Candied violas from http://www.foodnetwork.ca

Violet water is made by weighing down and steeping violet leaves and flowers in water. The softly fragrant water is used in cooking to flavor tea breads, fruit compotes, chilled soups, ices and cupcakes. Both violet water and candied violets can be purchased. 

For a long time, violets were prized for their aromatic qualities. They were widely used in perfumes until the advent of synthetic fragrances. There are still some perfumes made from violets, but it may take a bit of searching to locate them.

Typically, violets prefer somewhat moist and shaded areas, but I have found them growing in garden beds in full sun which get little supplemental irrigation. Our common blue violet along with its white and hybridized relatives such as ‘Freckles’ are tough plants and compete well in the Northeast. I find that they are easier to dig up from unwanted areas in my garden then to get rid of in a lawn. Personally, I find a lawn awash in purple and white quite a lovely spring sight.

Violets in lawn. Photo by dmp, 2020

Many Connecticut residents are aware that pollinating insects are declining in numbers because of several factors including pesticide use, loss of habitat and climate change. Violets are a pollinator plant because the larvae of several butterfly species including the large yellow underwing and the silver bordered fritillary as well as the giant leopard moth and the Setaceous Hebrew character moth feed on violets. 

In general, violets need little care in terms of watering or fertilizing. Occasionally rabbits will nibble on the foliage, but it always grows back. Enjoy their short-lived blooms and consider using them as a groundcover under deciduous trees where turf grasses struggle.

Dawn P.

columbine Ruby Fenton May 12.2012

Native columbine

“Do you know why wildflowers are the most beautiful blossoms of all, my son?”

― Micheline Ryckman,  The Maiden Ship 

Why are wildflowers the most beautiful of flowers? Perhaps it is because they are untamed by mankind and often appear when one is not even looking for them. In spring, one of the pleasures of getting out on nature trails or trekking through the woods is coming across some of Connecticut’s spring blooming wildflowers. These colorful and interesting signs that warmer weather has arrived are a welcome distraction to the events around us. Whether found on purpose or by a happy coincidence, these wildflowers are interesting in their own ways.

pinxter flower native 5-22-15 Ruby Fenton

Native pinxter azalea shrub in bloom along the edge of a steam

Canada lousewort Pedicularis canadensis, also called wood betony, is a native plant in the broomrape family that is found in open woods, clearings and thickets. It has small, 2-lipped yellow flowers in a tight spike. Flowers open from the bottom and progress upward. Plants can range from as low as 5 inches in height to 14 inches. Leaves are fernlike and form a basal rosette. It is a hemiparasite that attaches to the roots of other plants while still producing chlorophyll of its own. Look for these wildflowers as early as April- June. Bees will pollinate wood betony.

lousewort 5-23-15

Canada lousewort- Pedicularis canadensis– wood betony

Asarum canadense, wild ginger, is native to eastern North America and can create a slow-growing groundcover in shady deciduous forests and can be found in the rich soils of shady deciduous forests. Flowers are seldom seen unless one knows where to look. Lifting the leaves reveals the bell-shaped flowers at the base of the plant close to the ground. Flowers have three triangular reddish- brown petals that fold back to reveal with an attractive red and white pattern that reminds me of looking into a kaleidoscope.

Wild Ginger (Asarum Canadense) May 20 2018

Flower of wild ginger Asarum canadense

Limber Honeysuckle Lonicera dioica is a native honeysuckle vine that blooms from May-June. Found in bogs or other wet areas, this plant has leaves that clasp the stem much like native boneset. The flowers of this honeysuckle are very attractive to bumblebees.

limber vine honeysuckle Pamm Cooper copyright 2016 - Copy

Limber vine honeysuckle

 

May apple, Podophyllum peltatun, is an interesting native plant that will have two leaves when a flower is produced, but only one leaf if no flower is produced. The large palmately lobed leaves are on the ends of long upright stems and resemble umbrellas. Flowers occur one to a plant, never more, are white with prominent yellow stamens, and are hidden under the leaves at the junction of the two leaf stems.

May apple plants

May apple colony

Violets seem to be everywhere- in lawns waste areas, woodland edges and trails. Over twenty species of violets are found in Connecticut, among them the bird’s foot violet, Viola pedata, distinguished by its finely cut leaf lobes that resemble the foot of a bird.  The petals are flat, with the upper two slightly folded back, and together with the prominent orange stamens it looks to me like it is sticking out its tongue at the observer.

birds foot violet May 2013

Bird’s foot violet Viola pedata

Common Blue Violet Viola sororia

Common blue violet Viola sororia

Trailing Arbutus is a low-growing shrub, usually under three inches tall. As the name implies, it forms a creeping mat, with trailing stems. A good feature for identification of this plant are the stems- six to 16 inches long and covered with bristly, rusty hairs. Leaf edges are toothless, but may also have the same stiff, brown hairs, as do the sepals. The tubular pink to white flowers will appear from April through May here in Connecticut.

trailing arbutus showing hairs on stems and leaf edges April 2020

Trailing arbutus with bristly hairs on leaf edges, sepals and stems

Purple  trillium Trillium erectum

Purple trillium Trillium erectum

Trillium begin blooming in late April or very early May, with different species flowering as late as early June.  The flower of nodding trillium, Trillium cernuum, may be overlooked as it dangles directly below its rather large leaves and is found in damper, shadier woodland areas than the more common purple trillium.

nodding trillium 5-21-16

Flowers of nodding trillium Trillium cernuum are hidden underneath broad leaves

There are so many wildflowers appearing in spring now that it is impossible to include them all in an online journal which is of little importance except to the writer. We all have our favorites, though, and the one I look forward to finding the most is the diminutive fringed polygala. A pink cross between a tiny airplane and Mickey Mouse, it one of nature’s adorable, delightful jewels.

fringed polygala May 13,Pamm Cooper photo

The exotic flower of fringed polygala

 

Pamm Cooper