Monday, April 6, 2020

All Is Not Well With (Some of) the Violets

Sadly, I found more evidence this week that all is not right with the world. For more than 20 years, I have been visiting a patch of white English Violets (Viola odorata var. alba) that grow along a woodland trail in the Skidmore woods in Saratoga Springs. These lovely pure-white, purple-spurred, exquisitely fragrant violets are very early bloomers, so I imagined they might be blooming already. And indeed they were. But most of their petals were shredded, having been eaten by some pest I could not see. Never in all the years I've been visiting these violets have I seen any insect damage to the flowers. It seems that some new threat is stalking the violets in these woods, just as this new and terrible virus is stalking the humans of this world. Alas! I did not need another omen of disease right now.

Here's an old photo of an English Violet when healthy and intact, with a pristine white face that shows no trace of dark veining, although it does have a purple spur.

And here's what these violets looked like today, with petals and leaves shredded by some creature feeding on them. I can only hope it was some desirable creature like a butterfly larva that's been feasting here, but I wonder why they never feasted here in years past. I know that Fritillary larvae feed on violets, but I do not recall ever seeing a Fritillary flying about these woods this early in spring.

After grieving this larval damage to the white variety of English Violets, I went over to the other side of the Skidmore campus, where I knew of a patch of the purple ones that grow along Daniels Road. How delighted I was to find them thriving undamaged and in full bloom!   I could find no sign of any larvae having fed on either flowers or leaves. What a gorgeous deep-purple these violets are! And as fragrant as they are beautiful.

Since these violets grow wild by the side of the road, where they are being encroached upon by masses of Garlic Mustard, I felt no guilt about picking a small nosegay to bring home to perfume my kitchen.  (I also weeded back a considerable swath of that Garlic Mustard.)  Considering how this wee little bouquet filled my car with their scent in just a few seconds, I can imagine that the Victorian ladies who once lived at this very site might have cultivated this violet species for the sole purpose of their fragrance.

Apparently, these violets are just as tasty as they are fragrant -- or at least they were to my cat, who promptly leapt on the table and began to chew on them.  To protect my little bouquet, I had to cover it with a glass. I lift the glass now and then to release that glorious perfume. 

Okay, this violet is not a native species.  And I am a native-wildflower snob. So shouldn't I regard it with disdain?  But oh, it's so lovely, and oh my gosh, that fragrance!  And while it's non-native, I've never really experienced it as invasive.  So who could resent its presence?

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