Violets are February's Birth Flower. Let's learn about these dainty little spring blooming plants.
This time of year, the morning air may start frosty and cold, but by mid morning the dappled sunlight shines down to the forest floor, warming and giving springtime life to the land. Walking through the woods, keep an eye at your feet because you are sure to spot one of my favorite heralds of springtime: the charming purple blooms of violets.
The Viola genus
is impressively large, having more than 1,300 different species or cultivars, and includes the plants known as pansies. Around 60 species are native to the United States, and others were introduced to the US from other countries. That lovely little dark blue or purple violet you'll find in your woods is Sweet Violet (Viola odorata)
- an introduced species.
Violets are small forbs, mostly perennial. They don't have a stem; the leaves and flower stems emerge directly from their rhizome roots. The blooms always have 5 petals: 2 on the top, 2 on the side, and lastly one on the bottom, which serves as a convenient landing pad for beneficial insects.
Both the leaves and flowers of violets are edible, and provide an interestingly tangy treat during your afternoon strolls through the forest. You can add them to teas and salads, and there are a wide variety of recipes for butters, jellies, jams, cakes and vinegars with the blooms. What a pleasant way to liven up your meals!
Johnny Jump-Up (Viola tricolor)
is a hugely popular variety of violet for ornamental gardens, probably mostly because of its cheerful blooms that look like little smiling faces. Every plant swap seems to have several people bringing these. The problem, though, is that Johnny Jump Ups reseed prolifically and can become an aggressive problem in many areas. For that reason, I recommend you skip this one!
The violet 'Etain
' is a variety with large yellow blooms rimmed with a delicately deep lavender color, performs very well in mostly shaded conditions, and has a lovely fragrance. 'Freckles
' is another fun variety, with white blooms that are generously spotted with blue specks. Check out the variety 'Heartthrob
', which is grown for its leaves rather than the bloom. The leaves are deep red, ringed with green, and look more like a caladium than a violet. This one is on my wishlist! 'Rebecca
' is another worthy one to try: its blooms are white and crinkled with streaks of blue and yellow. No picture can do it justice, but we do have several photos on our website that try.
Most violets are woodland plants. They like conditions similar to open forests, so that means well drained soil, slightly acidic, well mulched, with dappled sunlight. The seeds are tiny, like dust, and hard to start, so if that intimidates you, start with small plants and transplant them into your garden. They'll establish quickly and soon reward you with vigorous growth.
If you do want to try growing them from seed, prepare a very fine seedbed in trays, using brand new sterile seed starting medium. Pre-water the potting mix so it's completely wet, then very lightly sprinkle the seeds over the surface. Do not cover the seeds, and put the tray in a dark location at around 70 degrees, and keep it moist and in the dark until the seeds sprout. Once sprouted, move them under growlights and grow them for 8 to 12 weeks until they are big enough for the garden. Growing these plants from seed is quite rewarding!
In our plant database, we have photos, comments and details about all the violas. Come explore this fun genus of plants, and add some to your garden this year! Read more about them at The Violas Database