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.
There is no instance of the seeds being found in Glacial or earlier deposits. The plant is met with to-day in Europe and temperate Asia. This plant is always an escape from gardens, and is not even regarded as naturalized, though in some districts it seems to have established itself. Its present dispersal is no doubt due in a measure to the former practice of using the plant for growing in pots indoors (hence the Latin specific name).
The Dame's Violet is found in meadows often in or near thickets, but seldom very far away from houses or gardens. It may, when the seeds have been carried downstream or dispersed by birds, be found in moist valleys in the west, as Shropshire, in some abundance, but as a rule its occurrence coincides with habitation.
Of neat habit, Dame's Violet has a stout stem, erect, branched at the top only, with linear-lanceolate leaves, which are alternate, entire, and slightly toothed, giving it a com-pact habit, which with its height gives it an air of grace, added to which the fragrance of the flowers at night (hence the first Latin name) surrounds the plant with pleasant memories.
The flowers are of a deep lilac or white tint, and large, the sepals being erect. The petals are blunt at the tip with a claw or stalk. The pods are long siliquae, which are erect and round, and the flowering branches are spreading. The valves are flat on the sides, ribbed or keeled, with three nerves, and there are numerous margined seeds. The pods have divisions or are knotted.
The plant is often 2 to 3 ft. high. It is usually in flower from May to August. Dame's Violet is perennial (according to many biennial), and is a deciduous, herbaceous plant increased by division.
As the Latin name implies it is especially odoriferous in the evening, and therefore is probably usually fertilized by moths, although it is visited by day by insects such as the hive bee, Large White Butterfly (Pieris brassicae), Small White Butterfly (P. rapae), Green veined White Butterfly (P. napi), Halictus lencopus, H. albicans, Volucella pellucens, Rhingia.
Photo. J. H Crabtree - Dame's Violet (Hesperis matronalis, L.)
There are two large, green, fleshy honey-glands at the base of the short stamens, well developed internally, and the honey collects between the pistil and base of three stamens each side. The longer anthers fill the entrance of the flower, and when withered project, while the shorter stand inside below them, opening close to the stigma, afterwards protruding. The pistil is elongated, and the anthers thus opening internally, cover the stigma with pollen. When insects visit the flowers at the right time they cross-pollinate them, honey-seekers touching the stamens and stigma on opposite sides of the proboscis, and this happens in the case of pollen-seekers occasionally.
Dame's Violet disperses its seed itself. The dry pod opens and the seeds fall out around the plant by tension of the valves, or are blown away by the wind.
Requiring a sand soil, or partly a humus soil, it is a sand lover. There are no fungi which are parasitic upon it. The butterflies and moths, Large White (Pieris brassieae), Orange-tip (Euchloe Carda-mines), Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia), Buff Ermine (Spilo~ soma lubricipeda), Plutella porrectella, feed upon it.
Pliny applied the name Hesperis, Greek hespera, evening; and the Latin matronalis means Dame's.
The English names are: Close Sciences, Damask Violet, Dame's Violet, Double Sciney, Eveweed, Gilliflower, (Dame's, Queen's, Rogue's, Whitsun, Winter) Rocket, (Red, White) Rocket, Sciney, Summer Lilac. Because ladies in Germany were said to put pots of it in their boudoirs it is called Dame's Violet. Sciney is a contraction for Damascena, once its specific name. The name Eveweed refers to its sweet scent at night.
It is cultivated as a garden plant, but it does not remain double-flowered any length of time. In the garden it needs a good loamy soil.
Essential Specific Characters: 30. Hesperis matronalis, L.- Stem erect, tall, branched above, pubescent, leaves oblong-lanceolate, acuminate, dentate, flowers lilac, scented, calyx erect, pedicels twice as long, pods tetragonal, stigma lobed.