Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Violets Variation

Happy spring! For me, the preeminent flower of springtime is the violet: the ubiquitous "common violet" (Viola sororia) that grows in yards that are not poisoned by chemicals on a regular basis.

The taxonomy of these free and pretty little jewels has apparently given botanists fits. George Yatskievych, in Steyermark's Flora of Missouri vol. 3, summarizes "the tortuous nomenclatural history (and longest synonymy)" of this highly variable species. The species (as it's understood today, for now) differs in amount of hairiness, colors and color patterns on the petals, and lobing of leaves. Some apparently are not 100 percent wild; cultivated forms exist. I think that's what we have in our yard, mostly.

One reason, he says, for the variation and confusion might be because this species might hybridize with closely related violet species, but also that, because these violets also can create viable seeds from cleistogamous (non-opening, self-pollinating) flowers, an unusual specimen may easily reproduce its own weird genetic line in an area, filling the vicinity with its own non-sexually-reproduced offspring (basically clones of the parent plant).

I have kind of given up on trying to key out violets because of these differences. Every time I read technical and even nontechnical treatments of Missouri's violets, I get confused. It doesn't help that older references have them divided up into different species that newer references don't recognize.

But mostly, I simply hesitate to do the serious work in keying out the plants: picking and teasing and pulling apart the flowers, for instance. It pains me even to run the lawn mower over them. And they only last for a few months in the springtime.

So I will just enjoy them and let them be. They are a central reason I don't treat my lawn with weed killers.

Here's a little portfolio of the violets that grow in our yard. Enjoy!

First, some pictures of some "unusual" blue violets I transplanted them to Missouri from Sue's parents' yard in northern Ohio in May 2016, right after Mr. Ferber passed away. These rather pale violets are the most common type up there! Their yard is full of these violets. For all I know, they might be a different species. Anyway, the two little clumps I brought home have gotten pretty well established. I wonder if they're breeding with the other violets in our yard?

Next, the standard plain purple violets; most of the violets in our yard are these.

The next most common kind of violet in our yard are the "Confederate" violets, which Yatskievych calls Viola sororia f. priceana, "a form with grayish white corollas marked with violet or blue veins and sometimes also the lower petal spotted or mottled with purple." He says if you see any growing in a natural area, they are probably "plants that have escaped from cultivation rather than truly native occurrences."

Here is a typical purple and a Confederate together:

This year, I've noticed we seem to have a lot of variation in the "Confederate" violets. Yatskievych says, "Where such plants grow within natural populations of plants with bluish purple petals, individuals with intermediate corolla color patterns may also occur."

So here are some examples. First, some "regular" Confederates:

Then, there are some that look especially dark:

And here's one that seemed to have very pronounced dark veins:

On the other hand, here's one that's remarkably pale, but still with the "Confederate" patterning:

And I could only find a single pure white violet. Its stems and leaves are pure green, lacking the kind of reddish tinge the purple violets can have. And the petals are pure white. Sorry my photo's so lame. If it blooms again, I'll try to take a better picture. But you can get the idea even from this shitty out-of-focus photo.

(Really, I should be ashamed of myself for even posting this piece-of-crap photo...)

Finally, there is a different species of violet that occurs in our yard, and it's clearly separate. This one is Viola striata, the pale violet or cream violet. It has aerial stems (that have alternate leaves and flowers coming off of it) as opposed to having each leaf stem and each flower stem arising directly from the rhizome (like the other yard violets do). The flowers are narrower, and the stipules on the aerial stems are distinctly fringed with deep lobes or teeth (they look kind of comblike). The lower petal usually has dark purple veins (I guess that explains the species name, striata). Here are a couple views of it.

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