Nature Bulletin No. 417-A May 1, 1971
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation
Of all our early wildflowers, the violets are probably best known and
most universally loved. Their colorful little blooms, that peep out from
low-growing bunches of foliage, have been an inspiration to poets
since ancient times. Their name has become a synonym for modesty
Violets are found throughout most of the world: in rich woodlands,
prairies and meadows, marshy places, bogs, dry sandy plains, on high
mountains, and even in the arctic and Antarctic regions, Usually, each
kind prefers a particular sort of habitat but there are so many kinds,
and so many varieties and hybrids of those kinds, that even a trained
botanist has to scratch his head before he can positively identify some
There are two general groups. By far the most common are the
"stemless" violets which, like the Common Blue Violet, have a rosette
of individual leaves and flowers on separate stalks rising from the root
or from underground runners sent out by the root. Those in the other
group have branching stems with the leaves placed alternately and
flowers rising on thin stalks from the axils where the leaves join the
stems. These flowers bear seeds. The stemless violets are peculiar: the
showy flowers seldom make seeds. Instead, later in the season and
near the base of the plant, they produce little short-stalked green
flowers which have no petals, never open, and are self-fertilizing.
They produce large numbers of tiny seeds that are scattered when the
small three-parted pod pops open in late summer.
Almost all of the violets have flowers with a distinctive shape: two
petals above; two, usually narrower, at the sides; and at the bottom a
large trough-shaped petal with a short sac-like tube at the back where
the fragrant nectar is secreted. Many kinds have clusters of hairs,
called "beards", on the bottom and lateral petals. The upper and lateral
petals usually have fine deeper-colored lines leading into the center of
the flower: "nectar guides" for insects. The colors of violets range from
white, yellow and pale lavender to deep blue or purple. Some have two
or three colors.
The leaves on some kinds are round or heart-shaped; some are arrow-
shaped; some are long and narrow; some are lobed; and the leaves of
one which grows on our native prairies -- are so deeply cleft that it is
called the Bird's-foot Violet. Some have downy or hairy stems and
some are smooth, Some are very fragrant but some have scarcely any
smell. There is a rare one, found at only one place in the forest
preserves, that merits special mention: the Green Violet which, with
its tall hairy stem, long tapering leaves, and queer little green flowers
in the axils of those leaves, doesn't look like a violet at all.
We cannot describe, here, the dozen most common of the 25 kinds of
violets that have been found in the Chicago region. We suggest that
you obtain a copy of "Illinois Wild Flowers " published by the Illinois
The most famous violet, and the oldest known garden flower of the
British Isles, is the flower with friendly faces -- the Pansy. Its ancestor
was the small-flowered Heartsease, a violet with three mixed colors --
blue, white and yellow. The ancestor of the deep blue, sweet-smelling
violet grown in hot-houses for the corsages we give to our best gals,
was the Sweet Violet of Europe.
"The violet of an unforgotten hour", "enshrines a soul within its blue".
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Update: June 2012