After a long winter, spring wildflowers are a welcome sight to many of us. There is one spring wildflower species that is often considered to be a symbol of spring. That species is the Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia Willdenow).
This species was once separate from another similar species, Viola papilionacea Pursh. However, both species have now been merged into 1 species.
Common Blue Violets are members of the Family Violaceae, the Subfamily Violoideae, and the Tribe Violeae. The generic name, Viola, is Latin for “violet”. It came from the Greek word, vion, which may have been named from Io, a beautiful water nymph in Greek mythology whose tears turned into violets. The specific epithet, sororia, is Latin for “sister” or “sisterly” because of its resemblance to other blue violet species. The specific epithet, papilionacea, is Latin for “butterfly-like” because the flowers resemble butterflies. Other common names for this species are Blue Violet, Butterfly Violet, Chicken Fights, Common Violet, Common Meadow Violet, Dooryard Violet, Hooded Violet, Johnny-Jump-Up, Long-stemmed Purple Violet, Meadow Violet, Purple Violet, Rooster, Rooster Hoods, Sister Violet, Violet, Woolly Blue Violet, and Wood Violet.
DESCRIPTION OF THE COMMON BLUE VIOLET
Height: Its height is about 2-12 inches. The flowers are slightly higher than the leaves.
Stems: Its only stems are the horizontal rhizomes. The leaves and the flowers have separate stalks, which grow directly from the rhizomes.
Leaves: Its leaves are simple and basal. They have broadly rounded or ovate leaf blades with cordated (heart-shaped) bases and pointed tips. The lower leaves may have rounded tips. Its length is about 2-3 inches and its width is about 2-5 inches. Its margins are scalloped or are slightly serrated. The heavily veined leaf blades may be slightly hairy or downy on both sides. Its petioles may be hairy or downy and have stipules at its bases. Eastern Cottontail Rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus J.A. Allen) and White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus Zimmermann) often eat these leaves.
Flowers: Its flowers are about ½-1 inch wide; bilaterally symmetrical; and are blue, deep purple, white, or of any color variation. Each flower is solitary and is singly placed atop its own smooth flower stalk.
Each flower also has a corolla of 5 separate, rounded, unequal petals: 1 lower, long, horizontal petal that extends back into a spur or nectar sac; 2 identical lateral petals with long, slender haired, white beards at their throats; and 2 identical top petals. The lowest petal has a white center and the 3 lowest petals are all strongly veined. These flowers also have a calyx of 5 separate, persistent sepals; 5 stamens with short broad filaments that are placed in a ring around the pistil; and a pistil with a short, club-shaped style that is bent at its base and a plump, 10-celled ovary. These flowers have very little fragrance.
These flowers are insect pollinated. Some of them include Syrphid Flies (Family Syrphidae), Bee Flies (Family Bombyliidae), and Butterflies and Moths (Order Lepidoptera). The veins upon the petals help guide the insect to the nectar. Bumblebees (Genus Bombus) often chew into the nectar spur to drink the nectar without pollinating the flower.
This species may hybridize with other blue violet species. This can make species identification difficult. However, these showy flowers produce few or no seeds.
Flowering season is March to June, but may also bloom in September. This is because the equinox occurs in both March and September. The 12-hour daylength releases a hormone that stimulates flowering.
This plant has small, non-showy cleistogamous flowers that arrive in the late summer or in the early fall. These flowers have shorter stalks and are located at the bottom of the plant. They have a calyx but no corolla. They do not open and are self-pollinating. They produce large quantities of seeds. These seeds are of the same genes as the parent plant and are not easily adaptable to new environments.
Fruits: Its fruit is a green, brown, or purple, 3-valved, ellipsoid pod or capsule. When the pod ripens in the early fall, it explodes open at the top. During this opening, the pod walls curl and split into 3 sections. As the pod dries, these 3 sections shrink. The explosion hurls the seeds for a distance of several feet. The cleistogamous fruits will ripen and open in the late fall.
Seeds: Its seeds are small; rounded; and black, brown, or brown dotted. A few bird and mammal species, such as Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus L.), Bobwhite Quail (Colinus virginianus L.), Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura L.), Dark-eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis L.), and White-footed Mice (Peormyscus leucopus Rafinesque), eat the seeds.
Ants (Family Formicidae) carry away some of the seeds. The Ants are attracted to the seed’s soft, fleshy covering that was produced by the seed’s oil gland (caruncle or elaisome). Fleshy seeds that are gnawed by the Ants often germinate faster and produce healthier plants.
Roots: Its root system consists of thick, creeping, gnarled, bulbous rhizomes with netted fibrous roots. These rhizomes are found close to the surface and extend outward to form new clumps of plants. American Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo L.) often eat these rhizomes.
Habitat: Its habitats consist of moist to medium, open woods; woods’ edges; wet meadows; lawns; fields; pastures; bottomlands; shady streambanks; and roadsides. They can tolerate droughts. These plants may be found in clumps of up to 2 feet in diameter.
Range: Its range covers the eastern U.S. and eastern Canada.
Common Blue Violets have some edible uses. Only the blue flowered and the white flowered violets are edible. Each species has different levels of palatability.
The leaves and the flowers contain large amounts of vitamins A and C. They may contain 3 times as much vitamin C as oranges.
The young leaves have either a bland taste or a mild, sweet, and slightly peppery taste. They were used raw in salads or were cooked for 10-15 minutes as greens. They are best mixed with leaves of other plants.
The older, astringent leaves are tough and unpalatable. However, they can still be cooked as a potherb.
The leaves are also mucilaginous (slightly gummy) and are used for thickening soups and stews. The dried leaves are brewed into tea.
The fresh flowers can be eaten plain; mixed in salads; candied; or made into jams, jellies, or wine. These flowers were also used to flavor vinegar.
The roots, rhizomes, fruits, and seeds should not be consumed. They can act as an emetic or as a purgative, or can cause severe allergic reactions.
Common Blue Violets had a few medicinal uses. It contains rutin, which strengthens capillaries. This would be useful in treating hemorrhoids and varicose veins.
The leaves and flowers were used as an expectorant. They were made into syrup that was used for treating common colds, consumption, bronchitis, whooping cough, other congestions, and various infections.
A poultice or emollient was used for treating headaches, skin abrasions, skin irritations, eczema, psoriasis, rashes, boils, wounds, and even skin cancer. More research is being done about the skin cancer.
A tea was made for treating bladder troubles. It was also used to purify or to detoxify the blood.
The flowers can be used like litmus paper. Acids make the petals red and bases make the petals yellow or green.
Common Blue Violets make attractive ornamental garden plants. However, they can also become a nuisance weed to some people.
Common Blue Violets are an indicator of the soil’s richness. The richer soils tend to have more blossoms than do the poorer soils.
These flowers were once used in a children’s game. Children would hook the spurs of 2 flowers together and then pull upon those flowers. The spur that tore open first was the loser.
This flower is the state flower of 4 states. Congress once tried to make this our national flower.
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NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION FIELD GUIDE TO WILDFLOWERS OF NORTH AMERICA
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