This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
The Sweet Violet is generally social in habit, many plants being produced around an older one yearly by the loose procumbent stems which are put forth from the axils of the terminal rosettes, the runners being long and creeping. It is thus a prostrate plant, which extends itself laterally.
The habit is the loose rosette or prostrate habit. The underground stems are thick, scaly, with rooting stolons. The plant does not flower the first year. The stipules are broad, lance-shaped, glandular, fringed with hairs, shortly pointed. The normal leaves are shining, heart-shaped to kidney-shaped, as broad as long, smooth or with few hairs. The aestival leaves have the lamina and leaf-stalks slightly hairy, with depressed hairs, the lamina longer than broad, with an open sinus. Some or no leaves persist till next spring.
The flowers are dark bluish-purple, fragrant. The flower-stalks are hairless, the bracts usually above the middle. The sepals are oval, blunt. The petals are egg-shaped, deep violet inside with a bluish-white base, dark blue outside with a deep violet spur. The green cleistogamic summer flowers are fertile, as are the spring flowers. The capsule is round, bluntly 3-angled, downy, often purplish.
The Sweet Violet is rarely more than 6 in. high. May is the latest month in which it flowers, beginning in March. It is perennial.
The flowers, though concealed by the leaves, are sweet-scented. The end of the pistil which bears the stigma is not globular, but like a bird's head, standing a little distance from the lower petal, though close to and bent down into a hook, and fills the mouth of the flower. The pistil is pushed up by a visitor inserting its head below the stigma. The insect parts the ring of anthers and its proboscis is covered with pollen. The base of the pistil secretes a fluid which moistens the insect's proboscis, and causes the pollen, which is dry, to adhere to it. The pollen is dry so that it may fall into the cavity, otherwise the insect would not touch it.
The insects visiting it are Hymenoptera (Apidae), Diptera (Bomby-lidae), Lepidoptera (Small Tortoise-shell Butterfly, Vanessa urticae, Brimstone, Rhodocera rhamni). To prevent rain reaching the honey the flower is borne on a long stalk, and the pollen is by this means allowed to fall and to be secreted between the free ends of the stamens and the pistil, i.e. not at their base. The pollen is loose and dry, assisting it to remain between the anthers and the pistil. The style is thin below, for insects to bend it, and is curved. The membranous extremity of the upper anther-stalks overlaps the ends of the two middle stigmas, so that the bee can move the pistil and get at the pollen more easily by setting it free. There are lines on the carpels which serve as honey-guides.
Photo. J. H. Crabtree
Sweet Violet (Viola Odorata, L.)
There are two kinds of flowers, one large and much visited by insects; the other smaller ones are not so much visited, as they have no scent or honey, and the corolla is absent or rudimentary. They are called cleistogamic flowers, and secure pollination with little effort. The anthers have little pollen. They are at first like ordinary buds, the carpels occupying the middle.
The spring flowers are coloured, the others have no corolla in the autumn and look like buds, but later appear to be capsules. These have more numerous seeds than those of the spring flowers. They hang down upon the ground, and when ripe the capsule bursts and the seeds are sown around the plant in the ground. Often if the soil is loose the capsule is buried before the seed is mature. The seeds are dispersed by ants, the elaiosomes possessing nutritive matter, or are jerked out by the wind. The capsule when ripe splits open.
The Sweet Violet is infested by the fungi Peronospora viola, Phyllosticta viola, Ascochyta violce (Violet leaf blotch), Cercospora viola (Violet leaf spot), Alternaria violae; (Violet spot disease), and Puccinia viola, Urocystis violae grow upon it. Argynnis adippc, the High Brown Fritillary, lives on it.
Pliny gave the name Viola, Latin for Violet. Theophrastus called it Ion, because it was first presented to Jove by Ionic nymphs, or because when Io was changed into a cow the earth brought forth the Violet. The second Latin name refers to its sweet-scented character.
The Violet is called Appel-leaf, Bairnwort, Banwort, Blaver, Bessy Banwood, Fine-leaf, Vilip, Violet (Blue-, English-, March-, Sweet-Violet).
Shakespeare, in referring to the metempsychosis or transfer of souls in the form of flowers, in Hamlet, makes Laertes wish violets may spring from Ophelia's grave:
" Lay her in the earth, And from her fair and unpolluted flesh May violets spring."
This may be compared with Persius, Satires:
" E tumulo fortunataque favilla Nascentur violae ".
Tennyson also writes:
" And from his ashes may be made The violet of his native land ".
To dream of the violet was said to mean advancement in life. It was used in garlands and spring bridal bouquets in ancient Greece.
In spite of its association with early death, it is the emblem of constancy.
" Violet is for faithfulness, Which in me shall abide, Hoping likewise that from your heart You will not let it hide."
The Violet was dedicated to Venus.
In Greece violets were worn in the chaplet because it was imagined they dispelled the fumes of wine and drove away headaches. Its sweet scent is employed in perfumery. The petals are used in syrup given to children. It had many fanciful qualities in mediaeval times. Thus, " stamped with water it casts out a broken bone ".
The root is emetic, being employed as a substitute for ipecacuanha. The syrup is used by chemists as a test for acids or alkalies, being cultivated at Stratford-on-Avon for that purpose. The Violet is laxative. Sherbet is supposed to have violet syrup as one of its constituents. The Koran praises it, holding it, like the Prophet high over men, superior to all other flowers. When dried the flowers are used in bonbons, being candied. The seeds are diuretic, and powdered were used for gravel and stone.
The species is cultivated, and white and blue forms are equally sweet-scented, while both single and double forms are produced.
This plant was used as a beautifier to render the eye lustrous, enlarging the pupil. The Grecian women colour their eyelids blue with it, and make a preparation of it for the eyes.
The Violet is a humus-loving plant requiring a humus soil, which is obtained in woods and under hedge banks. It grows on a variety of subsoils formed by different geological formations, both arenaceous and oolitic.
Essential Specific Characters: 42. Viola odorata, L. - Stem with stoles from axils of terminal rosettes, creeping, leaves cordate, crenate, downy, flowers blue or white, scented, spur straight, lance-shaped sepals obtuse, bracts above middle of peduncles.