This section is from the book "The Native Flowers And Ferns Of The United States ", by Thomas Meehan. Also available from Amazon: The Native Flowers and Ferns of the United States in Their Botanical, Horticultural, And Popular Aspects.
Rootstocks thickly dentate with fleshy teeth, branching, and forming compact masses; leaves all long-petioled and upright, heart-shaped, with a broad sinus, varying to kidney-shaped and dilated-triangular, smooth, or more or less pubescent, the sides at the base rolled inward when young, obtusely serrate, lateral, and often the lower petals bearded ; spur short and thick ; stigma slightly beaked or beakless. (Gray's Manual of Botany of the Northern States. See also Wood's Class-Book and Chapman's Flora of the Southern States.)
EW flowers are better known than the Violet. Our attention is attracted by it from infancy to old age. As the chosen emblem of Napoleonism it has served many a sadly practical purpose, and it has been the theme of the poet from the earliest times. As Viola it was known to the ancient Romans, and the great Linnaeus adopted the name as the language of science. In those early times, when poetry and nature were blended so closely together, the Violet was received as especially the emblem of constancy. The "Violet is for faithfulness,"
Shakespeare tells us, and it was no doubt the popular association this particular "language" of the flower - that led to its appropriation by the Buonapartes. Its other chief associations have been with sweet simplicity and modest, retiring humility; but these characters dwell chiefly in the European species. When Duke Orsino, in "Twelfth Night," declares that the music he listened to " Came o'er my ear like the sweet south, That breathes upon a bank of violets, Stealing, and giving odor," or Perdita, in "Winter's Tale," tells Florizel that "before the swallow dares" come, there are "Violets dim, But sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes, Or Cytherea's breath," they are referring to experiences which no American species of Violet will afford. Our Violets will " take The winds of March with beauty," but except to a small degree, in some species, fragrance is wanting.
The species we now illustrate is the commonest of those found in America, so frequently met with as to bear the distinctive name of "Common Blue Violet." It has been found wild from Arctic America to the Gulf of Mexico, westward in the Rocky Mountains, and across the Sierra Nevada, almost to the Pacific coast. It grows in deep, shady woods, as well as in the most exposed places, but generally where the soil is a little damp. It varies very much, and in consequence the older botanists made many species, with distinctive names, out of what are now regarded as but forms of one. As a general rule, the flowers are of a deeper blue in rich, cultivated soil, or in high places than in low or swampy ground, in which latter they are often of a lilac tint, and with the petals particularly thin and lank. Our own Bryant undoubtedly alludes to this form when he sings so slightingly of "violets lean," which " Nod o'er the ground-bird's hidden nest."
The general characteristic of our flower is that of retiring, contented luxury.
In some specimens the leaves are lobed, while in others they are palmately divided, but these variations in leaves are now known to be so common in vegetation that only secondary importance is attached to them in determining species. The general appearance of a plant - all the characters combined decides the question.
The large, showy, but scentless flowers of this species appear with the first approach of spring, and often in the fall if that season be mild. Some Violets, and those of this species more especially, have the power of perfecting seeds without making flowers, in the popular sense of the word. Early in the spring we have the complete flower, formed of calyx, corolla, stamens, and pistil; but as the season advances the petals are not produced and the calyx remains closed. The anthers, however, perfect a small quantity of pollen, sufficient to fertilize the ovaries, and seed is produced in this way in abundance. This process, in the Violet under consideration, often goes on when the flower-bud is completely under ground. Many plants are now known to have flowers of this character, and on account of these "secret marriages," as the poets say, are called dcistogamous plants. It is interesting to note the transition from one of these conditions to the other in the fall of the year. The cleistogene flowers are most abundant in summer, and are often all that are produced at that season; but towards the autumn, a flower will be found with but one petal, another with two or more, till late in winter, or towards spring, the complete flowers appear. It has already been noted that the pollen in the cleistogene flowers is very small in quantity. A very interesting physiological fact has recently been made public by Dr. Kunze, of New York. The seeds from these flowers are borne in great abundance, while there are only about twelve pollen-grains in each anther. From this it would seem that a single pollen-grain is capable of fertilizing more than one ovule, - certainly a very remarkable fact, if it should be proved beyond doubt.
Though the Common Blue Violet is so well known, and is natu-rally so variable, it has not given much to the florist so far; some white and violet-striped ones are under cultivation, but this is all.
There are, however, many marked varieties wild, of which we give a few specimens in our plate, and there is no doubt but that, if attention were turned to watching for variations, and then sowing from those selected, some interesting forms might be obtained.
The spur of the Violet is worth special investigation by the student. Inside the spur (see illustration on the plate) there is a fleshy, lever-like projection, and it would be a matter of interest to know not only the uses of this projection, but also whether the spur is formed to accommodate it. In this case the spur and staminate projection are proportionate; but some Violets have long spurs and short projections. On the other hand, there are Violets without these projections from the stamens, and then there is no petaloid spur. Some have contended that the projection is used as a lever, which, on being raised by an insect in search of nectar, causes pollen to be thrown on the insects back, and the pollen is then taken to another flower, thus "cross-fertilizing" it; but as in this Violet the spur membrane is so closely fitted to the "lever" that it cannot work, it shows how wholly imaginary these speculations are.
Color is supposed to be a provision of nature to attract insects to flowers for this very purpose of " cross-fertilization." But the student will not fail to notice that bees at least very rarely visit this Violet, though in color it is perhaps one of the showiest of all the subjects of the floral kingdom. Rich ground, if partially shaded, grows the plant to great perfection, and we may often see large tracts of such land, in old, abandoned gardens, as near a perfect " Sea of blue " as it is possible to expect from any flower.
1. The plant, showing its short, thick, and somewhat fleshy rootstock.
2. A flower divested of petals, showing the heel-like projection which proceeds from two of the stamens and fills the spur of the corolla.
3. Varieties of color occasionally found.