1116 Viola sororiaCommon Names: violet, common blue violet, early blue violet, sand violet Family: Violaceae (violet Family)
The common blue violet is one of the commonest and most welcome early springtime flowers to grace our open woodlands, meadows and (yes!) even lawns. This is a very variable species (it has gone under many different names). Typically the leaves are heart shaped, and may or may not have pointed apices. They may or may not be hairy. There are no stems on this plant: the leaves are borne on upright petioles 2-6 in (5-15 cm) tall that emerge directly from the rhizome. The lovely, although non-fragrant, flowers are held a little higher than the leaves and may be blue, violet, or occasionally white. The throat of each flower is usually white and often splashed with darker streaks. The flowers have five petals and measure about an inch (2.5 cm) across.
Actually there are two kinds of flowers: the flowers just described that are open, which the botanists call chasmogamous, and flowers that never open at all, called cleistogamous. These little closed flowers come along in summer after the open flowers are finished blooming. Seed capsules develop from the cleistogamous flowers and when ripe, the seeds are ejected forcefully out and around the plant. Mature plants are about 6 in (15 cm) across and 4 in (10 cm) tall.
Viola sororia (a.k.a. V. affinis, V. palmata, and other names) occurs naturally throughout North America, east of the Great Plains. It is our commonest violet and often forms extensive colonies on lawns, lightly wooded slopes and open bottomlands.
CultureLight: This little violet grows best with partial sun, but can tolerate shade, especially at midday, and even full sun if there is adequate moisture in the soil. Moisture: Common blue violet tolerates a wide range of soil conditions, and is adapted to natural variations in rainfall. It thrives on soils that are on the moist side. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 9. Propagation: The best way to propagate this species is to divide the rhizomes. Under most conditions, common blue violet will self seed and spread itself.
The flowers and young leaves of most violets are edible. These have a nutty flavor that goes well as a garnish on fresh garden salads. The caterpillars of several butterfly species feed on the violet foliage, but the flowers themselves are not particularly attractive to insects.
Here in Florida where I garden, the early blue violets start blooming in late winter. Many people consider them a weed in the lawn, but they are welcome here, when few flowers are blooming anywhere.
Steve Christman 4/7/10, 10/21/12