Violets have been a prominent flower throughout history. The Athenians considered the flower to be a symbol of their city after the founder received violets from a water nymph. The Romans placed violets at banquet tables believing that they would help them avoid drunkenness — you can imagine how that turned out. The violet made appearances in Shakespearean plays in association to death. Even Napoleon Bonaparte had a fondness for the flower, to the point that his first wife planted a violet garden for him. Bonaparte’s garden led to a trend in France that produced the cultivation of violets, which created many new varieties, including the pansy.
While violets have a long-standing tradition in history, they are still very present in our yards and gardens today.
People are not the only species attracted to the small flower; insects are as well. Bees especially like to visit the blossoms. The violet has adapted to maintain a mutualistic relationship with bees. The flower has five petals total: two pairs of petals for flagging the attention of the bee and one petal acts as a runway to lead the insect to the nectar.
Once the bee has made it onto the landing strip, it can use the violet’s beard to pull itself toward the nectar. The beard is made up of small, hair-like structures that give insects holding points to pull themselves into the small opening. Once the bee is inside collecting nectar, it inadvertently collects pollen on its head. When the bee is finished gathering its delicious goods, it will fly to the next violet to gather more nectar and unknowingly pollinate the plant with the pollen. The relationship between the two continues until the last violet fades in fall.
If your goal this summer is to add some color to your yard and help the bees, or to add some variety to your diet, the violet is a perfect addition to your garden. They are one of nature’s easy growers, growing well in light shade or full sun. To promote growth in your yard, avoid using chemical treatments. That may be enough for violets to sprout.
Visions of Violets
- Violet sees are incased in a sweet exterior. This coating is a delicious treat for ants who harvest the seeds to take into their nest. Once the coating has been devoured, the ants place the seed aside. It later sprouts to start the cycle again.
- Some violets have blossoms that never bloom. These blossoms are not duds, but instead are a backup plan if the flowers do not get pollinated. Inside the unopened flower are fertile seeds that can grow a new generation if needed.
- We see three color varieties of violets in Michigan: yellow, white and purple. The Johnny Jump Up (Viola tricolor) has managed to combine all three colors into one blossom.