Mustard Barberry, Spiderwort And Phlox Families
Iris Family Iridaceae
Read More Articles About: Wildflower Families
( Originally Published 1908 )
Everyone is familiar with the leading characteristics of the Violet family. The beautiful irregular flowers with five sepals and five petals, some of the latter being curiously modified into nectar spurs, are succeeded by small capsules within which are the numerous minute seeds. The one important genus of this family widely distributed in eastern America is that of the true Violets—Viola.
May is the month of the Violets. Whether blue, yellow or white these are always beautiful, and they are perhaps more dear to most of us than any of the other wild flowers. Some blossom in April and others continue into June, but the height of the season of these lovely flowers comes in May.
About thirty species of violets are found in the United States. Most of these are widely distributed so that it is almost hopeless to attempt to name without a careful botanical key all the violets one may be able to find in a given region. I can discuss here only a few of the more abundant species.
In classifying violets the first thing to notice is whether the plant in hand is a stemless or a stemmed species. In the former the leaves and flowers are borne on stalks which all appear to rise from the ground or from rootstocks creeping along the ground. In the latter the leaves and stems arise from branches which extend upward from the crown. One of the next things to notice is the presence or absence of a fringe of hairs on the inside of the petals toward the base : when these are present the Violet is said to be one of the bearded species ; when they are absent it is a beardless species.
STEMLESS BLUE VIOLETS. Of the stemless bearded Violets the Common Blue Violet, frequently called the Meadow Violet and sometimes the Hooded Blue Violet, is perhaps the most abundant. Royal in color as in lavish profusion," writes Neltje Blanchan, " it blossoms everywhere—in woods, waysides, meadows and marshes, but always in finer form in cool shady dells; with longer flowering scapes in meadow bogs; and with leaves longer than wide in swampy woodlands. Beards on the spurred lower petal and the two side petals give the bees a foothold when they turn head downward, as some must, to suck nectar. This attitude enables them to receive the pollen dusted on their abdomens when they jar the flower at a point nearest their pollen-collecting hairs. It is also an economical advantage to the flower, which can sift the pollen down-ward on the bee instead of exposing it to pollen-eating interlopers. Among the latter may be classed the bumble-bees and butterflies, whose long tongues pilfer ad libituan. ` For the proper visitors to the bearded Violets,' says Mr. Robertson, ` we must look to the small bees, among which the Osmias are the most important."
The Early Blue Violet is another stemless bearded species. It is more likely to be found in the comparatively dry soil of woods than in open meadows. It is distributed from Maine to Georgia in the east, and extends westward to Minnesota and Arkansas. The first spring leaves of this Violet are likely to be heart-shaped, resembling those of the Meadow Violet, but the later leaves have the margins divided into many lobes. On this account it is called by botanists Viola palmata—the Palmate-leaved Violet.
Still another common species which comes in the group of stemless bearded Blue Violets is the abundant Arrow-leaved Violet. This is easily distinguished by the arrow-shaped leaves which give it its common name as well as its botanical one—Viola sagittata—which simply says in Latin Arrow-like Violet. This species is especially abundant in wet meadows and along the borders of marshes. It is distributed from Maine to Georgia in the east, and extends westward to Minnesota and Texas.
The Ovate-leaved Violet bears a general resemblance to the Arrow-leaved sort, except that its leaves are ovate rather than distinctly arrow-shaped. It grows in drier soil than does the other and has .shorter petioles, the flower-stalks being as long as the leaf and its petiole.
We come now to a beautiful stemless blue Violet in which the petals are not bearded at the base-the Bird's-foot Violet. The leaves are divided into many narrow lobes which give a resemblance to a bird's foot, whence the English name as well as the Latin one—Viola pedata. This species is so characteristic that it will be at once recognized from the picture. The only sorts with which it is likely to be confused are the Coast Violet of the East and the Prairie Violet of the West, but these are both bearded species and are easily distinguished. The Bird's-foot Violet is distributed from Maine to Florida, and Minnesota to Missouri, but it is by no means a common species in most localities within these boundaries. It is more likely to be found along hillsides or in comparatively dry fields than in marshes and meadows. It has none of the closed flowers that so many of the Violets bear.
WHITE VIOLETS. Two or three species of stemless white Violets are widely distributed in the United States. The Sweet White Violet is a moisture-loving sort, occurring especially in wet meadows, or along brooks, or in swamps. It is abundant over a very wide range, the limits eastward being Newfoundland and North Carolina and westward British Columbia and California. The stems and the heart-shaped or kidney-shaped leaves are generally smooth and shiny, a fact which distinguishes this species from the Kidney-leaved Violet, the stems and leaves of which are pubescent or hairy. The latter is found in the Northern States.
Another common and widely distributed white violet is the Lance-leaved Violet. It occurs in damp situations in a region whose limits are Nova Scotia and Florida on the east and Minnesota and Texas on the west. It may be known at once by its long, slender, lance-like leaves.
The Primrose-leaved Violet differs from the other white violets in its oval or ovate leaves. It is a lover of moist situations more or less exposed to sunshine. It is an eastern form, occur-ring from " New Brunswick to Central New York, Florida and Louisiana."
YELLOW VIOLETS. Only one species of stem-less yellow violet commonly occurs in our flora : this is the Round-leaved Violet. It is found in open woods as well as on rocky hillsides from Labrador to North Carolina, extending westward to Minnesota.
Passing now to the stemmed violets, in which leaves and blossoms are borne on upright stems, we find one common yellow sort—the Hairy or Downy Yellow Violet. This is a widely distributed species with kidney-shaped leaves, and having both leaves and stems thickly covered with tiny hairs. This fact at once distinguishes it from the Smoothish Yellow Violet which is a less common sort.
STEMMED BLUE VIOLETS. There are several rather common species of the stemmed blue violets. The Canada Violet is one of the most abundant of these. This is a wood-loving species, extending southward to North Carolina and New Mexico, but being especially common in the more northern states. It is generally larger and more robust than the American Dog Violet, which is also found abundantly in the more northern states, especially in moist shaded situations. The Long-spurred Violet is another of the stemmed blue sorts. It is at once distinguished from all other violets by the remarkably long nectar-spur which projects backward from the flowers.