Violets and Pansies are members of the Viola genus which is in the Violet family Violaceae. Viola is the ancient Latin name for the Sweet Violet Viola odorata used by the Greeks to make perfumes and the Romans to make wine. It has a very distinctive scent which is still used today in perfumes. The Common Dog Violet is in flower now. Garden pansies are hybrids of several species, including the Wild Pansy Viola tricolor. Text and images are taken from the new eBook ‘Flowers’ which was published recently. Click on this link for more information on the eBook.
The Common Dog Violet Viola riviniana is a wild flower native to Britain. It flowers from March to May and is found in woods, grassy places, gardens and mountains. Its flowers are very small and easily missed. Its flower is complex with a nectar spur to attract pollinators.
The tiny flower is remarkably complex. The flower has 5 unequal sized petals – a front petal with a long grey spur behind it, 2 petals either side and 2 petals above. Secreted nectar collects in the petal spur. When a pollinator, such as a bumble bee, alights on the front petal and extends its proboscis towards the nectar in the petal spur it inadvertently touches the reproductive parts and pollinates the flower. A complex arrangement of anthers and stigma prevents self-pollination.
The Wild Pansy Viola tricolor is a native wild flower found growing throughout Britain on field margins and short grasslands. It is also common throughout Europe as far as the Caucasus. It flowers from May to September and is pollinated by long-tongued bees. It is also known as Heartsease and referred to by Shakespeare as a pansy. The flower has 5 petals, 2 blue upper and 3 white/yellow lower and has nectaries in a spur.
The Garden Pansy Viola x wittrockiana is a hybrid of several viola species, including the wild pansy. It was created in the 1830s in Britain and named after a Swedish botanist. It has 2 upper petals, 2 side petals and one large lower petal. They are treated as hardy annuals although they are biennials and will produce seed in their second year. Generally they are grown from seed and planted out in the second year, then discarded.