Friday, April 17, 2009

New Clues to the Violet Mystery

READER ALERT:  This post is for wildflower nerds.

Too much wind today to go back on the river, so I went back to Skidmore woods to revisit my mystery white violet.  (The small, fragrant, pure white, un-veined variety I wrote about in my post for April 2.)  I found a couple of clues that might yet lead to discovering its name. 

First, I saw one plant of purple flowers, right in the middle of the patch.  Same size, same leaf shape, same basal-leaves-only configuration, same fuzzy stems, same fragrance.  But purple, not white.  Just one purple plant among dozens and dozens of white ones.  Could it be a variety of the same species?  A hybrid?  A mutation?  Hmmmm.  I just don't know.

Second, I turned a pure-white one over, and discovered its spur was purple.  Just the spur, not the backs of the petals like Canada Violet.  Well that should be a distinguishing feature, I thought as I pored over my guide books later.  To no avail.  Audubon's, Newcomb's, Peterson's,  even Britton & Brown's.  Not a single early-blooming, pure white, unveined, basal-leaved, fragrant, purple-spurred violet (with a possible all-purple variation) could I find.   Anybody else have a clue?

Then I found another entirely different violet, this one not in the woods but out in a sunny, grassy spot.  The richest, deepest, most radiant purple, with a fragrance -- no, a perfume -- as deep as its color.  This, too, had a quite distinctive feature:  the lower outside petals were folded up, unlike any other violet I've ever seen.  And once again, while searching my books, I never found a picture or description of this violet.  What shall I call it, then, when I record it in my journal?  Guess I'll call it "Purple Perfumed." Unless somebody out there can tell me its official name.

Postscript:  I looked through H. H. Howard's Plants of Saratoga and Eastern New York and found a violet that might be my Purple Perfumed one.  Viola odorata, or English Violet.  Not a native, maybe escaped from gardens.  Certainly very lovely.  But I still haven't got a name for that fragrant white one.


John W. Wall said...

I don't know what your violet is, but here's more food for thought. I once found a blue "scarlet pimpernel" among a zillion conventionally colored blossoms. I thought I'd made botanical history, but the local botany experts were well aware of this variation. I once found a white larkspur among a bunch of conventional blue ones, and again it was nothing special to my botany contact. Argh! :) Anyway, if you have a local version of our California Native Plant Society, there's usually someone willing to lend their expertise.

Woodswalker said...

Thanks for your comment, John. I've written to several folks who might know, and I'm waiting for their responses.

It's true, we occasionally find "sports" among plants that defy the official description. Like pink Cardinal Flowers and white Purple Trilliums.