The Blue Violet
by John C. Willard from the Wethersfield Post, May 3, 1973
“Violets – deep-blue violets!
April’s lovliest coronets!
There are no flowers grow in the vale
Kiss’d by the dew, woo’d by the gale,’
None by the dew of the twilight wet,
So sweet as the deep-blue violet. ”
The common blue violet is one of the most pleasing signs of spring. It is beloved by children who pick them in large bunches and is often referred to by poets as a lovely spring flower. When we went to grammar school it was customary to gather all the wild flowers we could find and have a race as to which room could find the most wildflowers. So it was that we grew to know the wildflowers of spring and early summer.
Although we had no access to botanical listings we found about all the violet species that grow in Wethersfield. These were identified by pictures in a book. The common blue violet (viola palmata) is the most widespread of all. It grows everywhere, in gardens, in the grass, in open forest, but best of all along the banks of brooks. There it grows in immense tufts to greater size and height, with big flowers varying from deep to light blue. In gardens a form varying from pure white to white with blue veins is often found.
In times past when trolley cars ran to Broad Street Green many Hartford people used to come down just to pick violets on the Green. It was a pleasant outing for a nickel fare, and the flowers where it was moist had long stems making pleasant bunches to carry back to the city. The violet flowers seldom, if ever, develop seeds. These are produced later in the season by buds which do not open. Nevertheless, these buds produce fertile seeds in abundance. Most people never see these unusual seed pods, but they are produced in abundance, so much so that in garden the violet becomes a weed taking possession of large beds hard to eradicate.
This common flower has many cousins with flowers of blue, yellow and white. The open sandy places are where the hairy leaved Sand Violet may be found, and nearby the Birdsfoot Violet (V. pedata) with its two toned flowers and leaves cut into linear divisions. Another, the Arrow Leaved Violet (V. sagittata) might be considered as just a variation of the common blue violet, but it does have distinctly different leaves, varying from heart-shaped to halbert-shaped leaves.
In the woods, generally on a stream bank you will find a shining round leaved plant with short stemmed flowers of pure yellow. This is the Round Leaved Yellow Violet (V. rotundiflora). Nearby may be found the Canada Violet (V. Canadensis) with creamy white or even purplish flowers. Nearby, again, will be found a type which has stems that branch from a leafy spray with light yellow flowers. This is the Downy Yellow Violet (V. Pubescens). Still another woods dweller is the Dog Violet (V. canina) with purple flowers, the lower petals slightly bearded.
The white varieties are singularly beautiful, but too short stemmed for picking. The most common of these are the Sweet White Violet (V. blanda) generally found in very moist places, and the Lance-leaved White Violet (V. lanceolata) quite similar in flower, but with distinctly long pointed leaves. All of these are reasonably common if you look in the right places.
The violet family has many cousins such as the English Violet grown by florists. This has a very sweet scented blossom and is grown in both single and double forms. The pansy is not a distant cousin, nor is the Horned Violet (V. cornuta). The latter is much prized in Europe as a border plant. It comes now in all colors and with its freedom of bloom makes a fine plant to border flower beds. This is especially true if the plants are raised from cuttings so that they are identical in form and color.
A peculiar form is the Confederate Violet which grows in my garden and spreads just as freely as the common blue violet. This is a short-stemmed flower of a light greyish color spotted with violet, the colors of the Confederate flag. It is known as V. papilionacea and I have recollection that it is a hybrid. Nevertheless, it breeds true and seeds freely, spreading into the grass. Due to the method of producing seed from unopened buds it does not revert to its parents, but continues year after year to produce a sheet of bloom in the “Blue and Gray” of the Confederate flag.
It is interesting to think that our common blue violet has such a host of cousins of such varied colors and habits, and that so many of them may be found in our woods and fields.