Violet, the common name for plants of the genus viola (of which it is a diminutive through the It. violetta), an ancient name, adopted by botanists; the genus is the principal one in the small family violacece (or violarieoe), which includes herbs and shrubs of no economic importance. Besides ionidium of the far west, and solea of the eastern states (which some now unite with ionidivm), viola is the only representative of the family in the United States. Violets are found in most temperate regions; over 200 species are enumerated, which Bentham and Hooker think may be reduced to half that number. Our native species are nearly all perennials, with a short, thick rootstock; some have leafy and often branching stems, while in others the leaves and naked flower stalks are radical, or spring directly from the rootstock; the five sepals have ear-like projections at the base; the petals, of the same number, are somewhat unequal, with the lower larger than the others, and prolonged into a spur at the base; the five stamens have short and broad filaments, and often slightly cohere with one another to form a ring close around the ovary, the two lower ones having short spurs which project into the spur of the lower petal; the one-celled ovary has a single variously shaped style, with the stigma at one side, and when ripe breaks into three valves, the edges of which fold together and expel the seeds.
Many species produce, besides their showy flowers, others in which the petals do not develop; these are hidden among the leaves at the base of the plant, and produce seeds more abundantly than the showy flowers. About 18 species are accredited to the territory east of the Mississippi, three or four of which are also found in Europe, and several are peculiar to the far west. - A convenient subdivision of the species is into stemless and leafy-stemmed violets, these divisions being again subdivided by the color of the flowers, though this character is variable: some of our violets are among the most showy of the genus; they are either quite scentless, or with a very slight odor. In the section of stemless violets, the most common of all is the blue or hooded violet (V. cucullata), so called probably because the blade of the long-petioled, heartshaped leaf has its sides rolled inward at the base when young. This species varies greatly in size, the flower stems being from 3 to 10 in. high; it is very abundant in low grounds, forming large clumps, with its large flowers from deep to pale violet, and sometimes white or variegated with white; varieties of this have been called hand-leaf violet ( V. palmata), the leaves being variously cleft, and heart-leaf violet ( V. cordata and V. villosa). The arrowleaved violet ( V. sagittata) is usually in drier places than the preceding, with narrow and often arrow-shaped leaves.
The bird's-foot violet ( V. pedata) is most abundant in sandy places; its leaves are handsomely cut into narrow lobes; the flowers, the largest of the native species, are usually pale lilac-purple; it is frequently found with white flowers, and in the variety bicolor the two upper petals are of a deep violet color and have the velvety appearance of those of the pansy; in its typical form, and in its varieties, this is an excellent plant for the garden, where it forms large clumps which flower nearly all summer. In the west this is replaced by the larkspur violet ( V. delpinifolia), which differs mainly in the division of the leaves. In this section of stemless violets are three with small white flowers, the lower petal veined with purple; they are common in damp places; the sweet white ( V. Nando) has kidney-shaped leaves, the lanceleaved (V. lanceolata) erect narrow leaves, and the primrose-leaved violet (V. primulcefolid) oblong or ovate leaves. The only yellow-flowered species of this section, the roundleaved violet (V. rotundifolia), is found in northern cold woods and southward on the mountains. - In the section of leafy-stemmed violets, the most common is the American variety of the European dog violet ( V. canina, var. sylvestris, formerly V. Muhlenbergii); it is a low plant with creeping branches, and small light violet flowers, the spur half as long as the petals.
The long-spurred violet (V. rostrata is a rather taller plant, the spur being longer than the petals; a species with a similar habit of growth, the pale violet ( V. striata), has cream-colored flowers, the lower petal of which is marked with purple lines. The Canada violet ( V. Canadensis) is a taller plant than any of the preceding, growing from 1 to 2 ft. high, and most common northward; the petals are white or purplish, with the two upper ones violet-purple on the under side. There are two yellow-flowered species in this section, which have but few leaves, borne near the top of the stem; the downy yellow violet ( V.pubescens) has heart-shaped leaves, and is quite common in woods; and the halberd-leaved violet (V. hastata), which is quite rare, has leaves of the form from which it takes its name. Among the ten or more species of the far west and the Pacific coast are found representatives of the different subdivisions in which the eastern ones are grouped. - Several European violets are cultivated, the most generally known being V. tricolor, the pansy, which has become naturalized in some parts of the country, and the field pansy (var. arvensis), which is so common a weed in England, is sometimes found growing in the far west as if it were a native.
In the wild state the pansy is exceedingly variable, and more than a dozen species have been made of it by European botanists; it is an annual, a biennial, and sometimes a shortlived perennial, with branching angled stems, variously shaped leaves, and very large, leaflike lobed stipules; the flowers are variable in color, being purple, whitish, or yellow, with sometimes all three colors in the same flower in the wild plant. The pansy has long been in cultivation, and is generally popular, as is shown by the great number of names and fanciful sobriquets it has received in different countries; besides pansy (Fr. pensée, thought), it is frequently called heartsease, a name originally given to the gilliflower, which was supposed to have cardiac qualities, and in some manner transferred to this; in this country it is often called "none-so-pretty," and sometimes "Nancy-pretty," a name that in England is given to London pride (saxifraga umbrosa); among its curious names are "love in idleness," " kiss me at the garden gate," "Johnny jump up " (or "jumper "), " pink of my John," and "jump up and kiss me." In cultivation the flower is often 2½ in. or more across; a perfectly formed flower must have a circular outline, with equal and flat petals, and a thick substance.
To succeed with pansies in this country, the seeds should be sown in autumn, and the plants, set in a shaded situation, will flower in early spring; our hot sun so affects the plants that the finest varieties if exposed to it produce only small flowers; some cultivators keep the plants in a shaded frame to prolong the duration of the bloom. Choice varieties are sometimes continued by cuttings, especially the double ones, of which several, including a pure white, have been introduced. - The sweet violet (V. odorata), widely distributed over Europe and Russian Asia, is much prized as a garden plant on account of its fragrant and modest flowers; though belonging to the stemless section, it throws out creeping runners by which the plant is multiplied; its leaves are broadly heart-shaped, scalloped on the edges, and more or less downy; the flowers are upon long peduncles, nodding, and of the bluish-purple color which is named after them. In cultivation many varieties have been produced; some have full double flowers, with colors ranging from white to the deepest purple, and varying much in size; among the later fine varieties are the Czar and Victoria Regina, with large dark-colored flowers.
The ordinary form is quite hardy in our gardens, but the variety called Neapolitan, producing a great abundance of pale flowers, is tender; they must have a partial shade to succeed. This violet is in great demand for bouquets and other floral work, and the florists endeavor by forcing to have the flowers all winter, the Neapolitan being the principal variety used. The horned violet ( V. cornuta), from the Pyrenees, is much used in Europe as a bedding plant; it produces large pale purplish flowers for a long while, but does not succeed well in our hot summers. - Most of the violets contain an emetic principle, especially in their roots, which is called violine, and has properties similar to emetina obtained from ipecacuanha; the flowers are laxative, and the sirup of violets is used as a laxative for infants. The sirup may also be used as a test for acids and alkalies. The roots of ionidium produce some varieties of white or false ipecacuanha.
Bird's-foot Violet (Viola pedata).
Pansy (Viola tricolor).
Sweet Violet (Viola odorata).