Common Blue Violet

The violets have been in bloom for a few weeks here – I’m late writing about it. The day after a snow storm a few weeks ago, when the six inches of snow we had received was nearly melted from the warm day, we went for a walk in the woods on the hill above our house. The violets were in full bloom, and the ferns were just starting to unfurl.

We often think of violets as woodland plants, which they certainly are, but they grow well in full sun, too, as long as the soil is moderately moist. After seeing them up in the woods, it was a pleasant surprise to walk across the pasture to close the chicken run for the evening and see them in full bloom all up the hill leading to the chicken run.
The violet was a symbol of constancy among the French troubadors and on into modern times. The Ancient Greeks and Romans thought highly  of it and included it in their gardens. Pliny recommended wearing a garland of violets on the head to prevent headache or dizziness.

According to the Smithsonian’s Old and New Plant Lore: A Symposium, published in 1931, there are more than 100 species of viola in the US. Many species of viola can produce two types of flowers:  the showy ones we all recognize that are pollinated by insects and a close-pollinated flower with no petals that appear throughout the summer. Seed pods appear under the leaves and pop open in the Fall to spread the seeds.
I think the species we found growing was Viola sororia, Common Blue Violet. It’s native to hardwood forests in North Carolina, as well as much of the eastern and central United States. It’s an annual plant with simple leaves of varying form, often rounded. The leaves and flowers are both edible, and the flowers can be candied, though they can also be included in a bouquet.

According to NCSU’s Plants Database, members of the Viola genus support several bee species, including Andrena (Gonandrena) fragilisAndrena (Gonandrena) integraand Andrena (Gonandrena) platypariaSince they are also resistant to deer damage, they can make a welcome addition to the pollinator garden.