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Field Pansy

Viola arvensis

  • Name also: European Field Pansy (USA, Canada)
  • Family: Violet Family – Violaceae
  • Growing form: Annual herb.
  • Height: 10–40 cm (4–15 in.). Stem erect, branched, glabrous.
  • Flower: Corolla zygomorphic, creamy white–yellowish white (sometimes light purple), 5–15 mm (0.2-0.6 in.) wide; petals 5, max. length equal to sepals, lowest spurred. Sepals 5. Stamens 5. A single carpel.
  • Leaves: Alternate, short-stalked, stipulate. Blade ovate–lanceolate, with rounded teeth (crenate). Stipules leafy, deeply lobed, tip lobe large, elliptic–narrowly obovate, with rounded teeth (crenate)–serrated.
  • Fruit: 3-valved capsule.
  • Habitat: Fields, gardens, close to human habitation, soil heaps, wastelands, meadows, rocky outcrops.
  • Flowering time: May–September(–October).

Field Pansy is so characteristically at home in culturally-influenced places that it has sometimes been doubted if it really is a wild species. At least in Finland it is an old established alien which has spread with people as a weed as far as Rovaniemi, and further north it grows sporadically. Like many other annual weeds it appreciates freedom and a lack of competition, and it runs riot in annually ploughed cereal, potato and root vegetable fields, as well as in the kitchen garden.

Field pansy is reminiscent of its close relative wild pansy (V. tricolor), which was formerly regarded as a subspecies or variation. Sometimes it is far from easy to say which species individual pansies belong to, especially in environments that people have changed. Field pansy can sometimes spread to wild pansy’s habitats on rocky outcrops and dry meadow banks, although it never strays far from people. Also in central Finland most wild pansy grows in places that have been created by people as well as in meadows, sandy areas and burn-beaten fields. The clearest difference between the species is in the flowers, as field pansy’s corolla completely lacks any violet colouring. Wild pansy’s flowers are sometimes yellowish white, but field pansy’s petals are also usually shorter than its sepals. Field pansy is also usually more sparsely branched, its capsule is a little larger and it produces a huge amount of seeds.

Field pansy’s success is based on this huge seed production. The centre of the flower has a yellow blotch and dark nectar indicators which fan out from the spur of the lowest petal, pointing towards the mouth of the spur. These markings tell the pollinating insect where to aim to get the nectar. The hairy groove at the mouth of the spur precisely directs the insect’s proboscis towards its reward; at the same time the creature has to align its body in a way that facilitates pollination. Annual pansy relies on an underground seed bank where the seeds can wait up to several decades before germinating.

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

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