(Viola) Violet family

Lacking perfume only to be a perfectly satisfying flower, the


cucullata of Gray) has nevertheless established itself in the

hearts of the people from the Arctic to the Gulf as no

sweet-scented, showy, hothouse exotic has ever done. Royal in

color as in lavish profusion, it blossoms everywhere - in woods,

waysides, meadows, and marshes, but always in finer form in cool,

shady dells; with longer flowering scapes in meadow bogs; and

with longer leaves than wide in swampy woodlands. The

heart-shaped, saw-edged leaves, folded toward the center when

newly put forth, and the five-petalled, bluish-purple,

golden-hearted blossom are too familiar for more detailed

description. From the three-cornered stars of the elastic

capsules, the seeds are scattered abroad.

Beards on the spurred lower petal and the two side petals give

the bees a foothold when they turn head downward, as some must,

to suck nectar. This attitude enables them to receive the pollen

dusted on their abdomens, when they jar the flower, at a point

nearest their pollen-collecting hairs. It is also an economical

advantage to the flower which can sift the pollen downward on the

bee instead of exposing it to the pollen-eating interlopers.

Among the latter may be classed the bumblebees and butterflies

whose long lips and tongues pilfer ad libitum. "For the proper

visitors of the bearded violets," says Professor Robertson, "we

must look to the small bees, among which the Osmias are the most


When science was younger and hair splitting an uncommon

indulgence of botanists, the EARLY BLUE VIOLET (Viola palmata)

was thought to be simply a variety of the common purple violet,

whose heart-shaped leaves frequently show a tendency to divide

into lobes. But the early blue violet, however roundish or

heart-shaped its early leaves may be, has the later ones

variously divided into from three to thirteen lobes, often almost

as much cut on the sides as the leaves of the bird's-foot violet.

In dry soil, chiefly in the woods, this violet may be found from

Southern Canada westward to Minnesota, and south to northern

boundaries of the Gulf States. Only its side petals are bearded

to form footrests for the insects that search for the deeply

secreted nectar. Many butterflies visit this flower. On entering

it a bee must first touch the stigma before any fresh golden

pollen is released from the anther cone, and cross-fertilization

naturally results.

In shale and sandy soil, even in the gravel of hillsides, one

finds the narrowly divided, finely cut leaves and the bicolored

beardless blossom of the BIRD'S-FOOT VIOLET (V. pedata), pale

bluish purple on the lower petals, dark purple on one or two

upper ones, and with a heart of gold. The large, velvety,

pansy-like blossom and the unusual foliage which rises in rather

dense tufts are sufficient to distinguish the plant from its

numerous kin. This species produces no cleistogamous or blind

flowers. Frequently the bird's-foot violet blooms a second time,

in autumn, a delightful eccentricity of this family. The spur of

its lower petal is long and very slender, and, as might be

expected, the longest-tongued bees and butterflies are its most

frequent visitors. These receive the pollen on the base of the


The WOOLLY BLUE VIOLET (V. sororia), whose stems and younger

leaves, at least, are covered with hairs, and whose purplish-blue

flowers are more or less bearded within, prefers a shady but dry

situation; whereas its next of kin, the ARROW-LEAVED VIOLET (V.

sagittata), delights in moist but open meadows and marshes. The

latter's long, arrow, or halberd-shaped leaves, usually entire

above the middle, but slightly lobed below it, may rear

themselves nine inches high in favorable soil, or in dry uplands

perhaps only two inches. The flowering scapes grow as tall as the

leaves. All but the lower petal of the large, deep, dark,

purplish-blue flower are bearded. This species produces an

abundance of late cleistogamous flowers on erect stems. These

peculiar greenish flowers without petals, that are so often

mistaken for buds or seed vessels; that never open, but without

insect aid ripen quantities of fertile seed, are usually borne,

if not actually under ground, then not far above it, on nearly

all violet plants. It will be observed that all species which

bear blind flowers rely somewhat on showy, cross-fertilized

blossoms also to counteract degeneracy from close inbreeding.

The OVATE-LEAVED VIOLET (V. ovata), formerly reckoned as a mere

variety of the former species, is now accorded a distinct rank.

Not all the blossoms, but an occasional clump, has a faint

perfume like sweet clover. The leaf is elongated, but rather too

round to be halberd-shaped; the stems are hairy; and the flowers,

which closely resemble those of the arrow-leaved violet, are

earlier; making these two species, which are popularly mistaken

for one, among the earliest and commonest of their clan. The dry

soil of upland woods and thickets is the ovate-leaved violet's

preferred habitat.

In course of time the lovely ENGLISH, MARCH, or SWEET VIOLET, (V.

odorata), which has escaped from gardens, and which is now

rapidly increasing with the help of seed and runners on the

Atlantic and the Pacific coasts, may be established among our

wild flowers. No blossom figures so prominently in European

literature. In France, it has even entered the political field

since Napoleon's day. Yale University has adopted the violet for

its own especial flower, although it is the corn-flower, or

bachelor's button (Centaurea cyanus) that is the true Yale blue.

Sprengel, who made a most elaborate study of the violet,

condensed the result of his research into the following questions

and answers, which are given here because much that he says

applies to our own native species, which have been too little

studied in the modern scientific spirit:

"1. Why is the flower situated on a long stalk which is upright,

but curved downwards at the free end? In order that it may hang

down; which, firstly, prevents rain from obtaining access to the

nectar; and, secondly, places the stamens in such a position that

the pollen falls into the open space between the pistil and the

free ends of the stamens. If the flower were upright, the pollen

would fall into the space between the base of the stamen and the

base of the pistil, and would not come in contact with the bee.

"2. Why does the pollen differ from that of most other

insect-fertilized flowers? In most of such flowers the insects

themselves remove the pollen from the anthers, and it is

therefore important that the pollen should not easily be detached

and carried away by the wind. In the present case, on the

contrary, it is desirable that it should be looser and dryer, so

that it may easily fall into the space between the stamens and

the pistil. If it remained attached to the anther, it would not

be touched by the bee, and the flower would remain unfertilized.

"3. Why is the base of the style so thin? In order that the bee

may be more easily able to bend the style.

"4. Why is the base of the style bent? For the same reason. The

result of the curvature is that the pistil is much more easily

bent than would be the case if the style were straight.

"5. Finally, why does the membranous termination of the upper

filament overlap the corresponding portions of the two middle

stamens? Because this enables the bee to move the pistil, and

thereby to set free the pollen more easily than would be the case

under the reverse arrangement."

In high altitudes of New England, Colorado. and northward, where

the soil is wet and cold, the pale lilac, slightly bearded

petals, streaked with darker veins, of the MARSH VIOLET (V.

palustris), with its almost round leaves, may be found from May

to June. All through the White Mountains one finds it abundant.

A peculiarity of the DOG or RUNNING VIOLET (V. Labradorica) is

that its small, heart-shaped leaves are set along the branching

stem, and its pale purple blossoms rise from their angles, pansy

fashion. From March to May it blooms throughout its wide range in

wet, shady places. Its English prototype, called by the same

invidious name, was given the prefix "dog," because the word,

which is always intended to express contempt in the British mind,

is applied in this case for the flower's lack of fragrance. When

a bee visits this violet, his head coming in contact with the

stigma jars it, thus opening the little pollen box, whose

contents must fall out on his head and be carried away and rubbed

off where it will fertilize the next violet visited.

VIOLET WOODSORREL VIRGIN'S BOWER VIRGINIA CLEMATIS TRAVELLER'S JOY OLD MAN'S facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail