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Sweet Violet

Viola odorata

  • Family: Violet Family – Violaceae
  • Growing form: Perennial herb. With long runners along ground, rooting.
  • Height: 5–15 cm (2–6 in.). Stem almost a leafless scape, scale-like bracts halfway or above.
  • Flower: Corolla zygomorphic, dark purple (occasionally white), approx. 1.5 cm (0.6 in.) wide; petals 5, lowest with spur. Sepals 5. Stamens 5. A single carpel. Flowers solitary, nodding, fragrant.
  • Leaves: With basal rosette, stalked, stipulate. Blade kidney-shaped–cordate, with rounded teeth (crenate), dark green, basal notch wide. Stipules ovately lanceolate, with entire or glandular-toothed margins, sparsely haired.
  • Fruit: Spherical, short-hairy, light purple, 3-lobed, approx. 7 mm (0.28 in.) long capsule. Scape curving towards ground in fruiting stage.
  • Habitat: Old parks, gardens, roadsides. Ornamental, sometimes an escape.
  • Flowering time: (April–)May.

Violets touch people in their own special way – it’s difficult to say if this attraction is down to the form of the flower, its fragrance or something else. The irregular (zygomorphic) form of violet flowers is very characteristic, and this type of flower is in turn called violet-like, although of course many other flower families feature loosely symmetrical flowers too. There are around 500 known species of violet, most of which grow in South America, in the Andes. Close to 100 species grow in Europe, and there are 16 species altogether that are feral or established escapes from cultivation.

Sweet violet comes from the time in the history of gardens when there was a greater emphasis than there is today on the plant’s fragrance. The fragrance of sweet violet’s flowers is regarded as one of the most beautiful aromas in the plant kingdom – no wonder then that it has also found its way into many perfumes. Sweet violet is however very rare in contemporary gardens and it is often found as a leftover from old gardens and manor houses. Sweet violet thrives in the shade and on mossy lawns so it can find plenty of places to grow in roughly-cared-for and half-forgotten gardens. The species sometimes grows in south-western Finland beside other wild plants – wild flowers are slightly smaller and have a weaker fragrance than their garden versions. Sweet violet uses its runners to form dense stands and can gradually spread quite far. Apart from its impressive, fragrant inflorescence in the spring, it also develops unopened and self-pollinating closed flowers later in the summer, just like other perennial violets. Pollinated flowers form capsule fruits which curve downwards and open up close to the ground or even go slightly underneath the soil. Sweet violet’s seeds are spread by ants: their oily white appendage tempts the insects to take them and drag them away until the seed is left behind when the appendage has been eaten – hopefully in a good growing place.

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family

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