Wednesday, April 10, 2024

April Violets!

When I was in high school (way back in the 1950s), I used to love a perfume called Yardley's April Violets.  It had a marvelously sweet fragrance, so I always poked my nose in the violets that popped up in the Michigan woods where I grew up, hoping to find a violet that smelled as wonderful as that. I never did. At least, not back there. But 40 years or so later, while walking a woods where I now live in Saratoga Springs, New York, I did find a violet that smelled just as sweet as that.  (No wonder its name is Viola odorata!)  A very early bloomer -- usually in early April -- it looked a bit different than other small white violets I'd find a week or more later, native species like Viola pallens and Viola blanda.  Most notably, its petals were snowy white with absolutely no dark veining, as these flowers I photographed yesterday demonstrate. That remarkably warm day, with temps near 80, had inspired a whole patch of them to bloom.

Another distinctive feature of these otherwise snowy-white basal-leaved violets is that the spur is a deep purple.

It took me several years to learn the actual name of this species, thanks to help from professional botanists Steve Young and Harvey Ballard, who told me to look for the distinctly hooked style, a feature that helps to distinguish Viola odorata from our native North American small white violets.  

 So yes, this is not one of our native wild violets (in fact, its vernacular name is English Violet), but I didn't care.  After all, I'd been looking for this flower for over 60 years!

Yet another surprise awaited me a couple of years later, when I happened upon another patch of early-April-blooming, super-fragrant violets, only these were an entire college-campus distance away.  And they were not white, but purple!  But only a moment's research informed me that the flowers of Viola odorata could be either white OR purple.

And a close inspection revealed the clincher:  that distinctly curved style that distinguishes this species of violet.  Along with its marvelous fragrance. And the purple variety seemed to be even more fragrant than the white one.

Viola odorata's fragrance is so heady, just a tiny nosegay (like this one I brought home a few years ago) could perfume an entire room.  I normally would never pick any wildflowers, but these were growing near the edge of a busy road where crews were trimming back trees, and heavy equipment would soon have run over them.  Just looking at my photo of this tiny bouquet elicits an actual experience of their sweet scent.

As it happens, I do have a patch of native North American violets blooming in my Saratoga Springs backyard today.  And they are both white and purple!   Sadly, though, I never have detected any fragrance from them. But there's no denying the welcome beauty and generous growth habit of our native Viola sororia, otherwise known as the Common Blue Violet, which will shortly be gracing every untended lawn and alley edge. They appear without our bidding or effort, mostly the blue variety but occasionally this bi-colored variety with the vernacular name of Confederate Violet (V. sororia f. priceana).  They don't usually bloom quite this early in April, but hey, who's complaining?

1 comment:

Rosalea said...

Wonderful to have you back!