Monday, March 29, 2010

Out to Play on a Rainy Day

The pond at Woods Hollow Nature Preserve on a drizzly day

Today was the kind of day when I used to say, "Oh Ma, I don't wanna go out and play 'cause it's raining!" and she'd reply: "You have a nice raincoat." So out I would have to go. In retrospect, I feel grateful to her, for no matter how grudgingly I ventured out, I always found something to amuse or amaze me out there. And that's still the case today, some 60 years later. Venturing out into the rain today, I had two destinations: first, to Woods Hollow Nature Preserve in Ballston Spa to see if the Beaked Hazelnut was in bloom (it was), and then out to Skidmore to see if a patch of purple English Violets were blooming (and yes, to my great surprise, they were).

I'd found American Hazelnut shrubs in bloom last week and was curious to see if the Beaked Hazelnut was blooming, too, and the only place I know where it grows is the Woods Hollow Nature Preserve. Sure enough, there they were, but you have to look sharp to see them, despite their brilliant red color. Talk about tiny! I'm sure a botanist could explain how these flowers differ in appearance from those of their American cousins. Their catkins look different, and their fruits would never be confused, but the female flowers sure look alike to me.

I hadn't been out to Woods Hollow since late last fall, when this bright baby Beech looked about the same as it did today: a glowing presence in the middle of the dark forest.

My next stop was the Skidmore woods to confirm the identity of the mystery violet I've been puzzling over for years. Thanks to some super assistance from Steve Young of the NY Natural Heritage Program, who enlisted the expertise of foremost violet authority Harvey Ballard, I now have a name for that fragrant, pure-white, early blooming violet I found just about to bloom last week: Viola odorata alba. Here's a photo I took of it last April when it was in full bloom.

With the common name of Sweet or English Violet, this is the white variety of a violet prized by Victorian ladies for its exquisite fragrance. Native to Europe but not to America, it was probably planted by the Victorian-era ladies (or their gardeners!) who lived in the long-gone mansions where Skidmore College now stands. Last year I found a patch of the more-common purple variety of this violet on the opposite side of the campus from where I found the patch of white ones. I stopped there today to see if these purple ones were blooming. And indeed they were! Or would be, if it hadn't been rainy and cold. Even so, I could detect their delightful scent.

According to Mr. Ballard, the style of this species has a "characteristic long-conic hook on it." So I peeled back the petals to take a peek at the style. Et voila! That looks like a long-conic style with a hook on it to me! (Look closely at the white blossoms above and you can see the same shape of style.)

One last test would confirm it. Mr. Ballard mentioned that individual plants of this species are connected by "(sub)surficial thick cordlike stolons." So, crossing the campus to conduct this test on the patch of white violets, I then brushed back the leaves and soil from around the base of the plants. Well, look at that! Thick cords connecting the plants.

So I guess that clinches it. Viola odorata alba it is. Many thanks, Steve Young and Harvey Ballard. You guys are like superheroes to amateur wildflower nerds like me.


John said...

Beautiful pictures. I especially like the one looking through the tall, parallel trees.

Ellen Rathbone said...

Oh, well...I guess we won't be naming the violet after you after all. :( Still, I'm glad you found out what it is - how very exciting!

I expect with the coming heat wave this week you will find yourself swamped with all sorts of bloomers. We are still flowerless up here in the mountains.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks, John. It isn't often you find a shot so beautifully framed as if it were arranged.

Hi Ellen. Yes, I confess the thought of having my very own violet did cross my mind. But it was still a thrill to finally know its real name. Several other flower folks were stumped, too. Doing this blog has really helped me reach knowledgeable people with real answers.

Genny said...

I love your woodsy walks and pictures. The slightly foggy pond photo is my favorite!

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks, Genny. I, too, loved that moody pond picture. There's something very serene about it.

Megan said...

Beautiful pics! I'm writing from Annie's Annuals & Perennials in Richmond, California in hopes that you will give us permission to use your Viola odorata 'Alba' pic for our online sign. We'll link back to your blog and all that good stuff.

Megan (at)