Much less conspicuous, and consequently not so widely known as the larger Downy Yellow species, the Round-leaved Violet is generally the first of the Violets to appear in blossom. Snuggled beneath the litter of fallen leaves in the seclusion of cool, hilly woods where the ground is moist, but well drained and shaded, this charming little aristocrat of violetdom makes its home. When the warmth of the earliest April showers has dissolved the frost crystals about their roots, and while the belated, cold, damp-laden winds are yet contesting the supremacy of the bright, ever-warming sunshine, the pale yellow flowers bear silent witness to the conflict. And so William Cullen Bryant found it:
"When beechen buds begin to swell,
And woods the bluebirds's warble know, The yellow violet's modest bell
Peeps from the last year's leaves below."
Occasionally I have found the earliest flowers of the Round-leaved Violet only after brushing aside the loose blanket of bleached oak-leaves, which hid them from sight. Their flower and leaf stems are rather short, and the blossoms seem to be contented with a sheltered chink between the fallen leaves, without forcing their way above them, as they do later in the season. During the spring months, while in flower, the plant is quite small and without an abundance of foliage. The early leaves measure from one-half to two inches broad, but they continue to expand, until by midsummer they have increased in size to three or four inches, and form a pretty rosette, flattened against the ground, or very near it. The matured leaf is rounded, with a short cleft between two lobes, forming a heart-shaped structure. The upper surface is smooth, very shiny, and dark green in colour. The under surface is lighter in colour, and the general texture is fine. The edges are slightly scalloped. They are borne on short stems, springing directly from the root. The pale, yellow flower is comparatively small, and has a very short spur. The side petals are bearded, and are finely veined with purple. The flowers hang singly on shortened, slender leafless stems. The thick rootstock sends out runners during July, which bear inconspicuous buds or flowers that never open. They are self-fertilizing, and the seeds ripen within the recurved bud. The Round-leaved Violet ranges throughout the cooler portions from Labrador to Minnesota, and southward to the higher parts of North Carolina.