Our colourful violets herald spring

There are many beautiful flowers in the spring.
Some are brilliant and flamboyant, some are soft and delicate, and some have special meanings in our lives.
We all love to see flowers blooming in the spring. In this part of the world, it means that we can put away the snow shovel for a while—and start to use our wonderful outdoors for enjoyment.
A lot of little flowers of the woods are very pretty, indeed.
When you walk in the woods, look down once in a while. There are a lot of very curious things on the floor of the forest.
Among them are the violets.
I suppose most people think that violets are violets—pretty little blue flowers. Well, here are a few surprises.
There are 52 different species of violets in the northeastern part of this continent. Quite a number of them are blue or violet, but there also are a lot of white ones, some yellow ones, and some which are green or greeny-brown.
There are certain characteristics which make a violet a violet. One is that there are five petals in the flower.
The bottom one or two often are formed into a spur, which is tilted up.
Bees have to go into this flower upside down to get the nectar. In this position, they transfer pollen to the pistil, and receive some from the stamens on the way back out.
Most violet plants are quite small—some being only a few inches tall.
I don’t know for sure how many species of violet there are here in Northwestern Ontario. Shan Walshe, who used to be a biologist at Quetico, listed nine species as having been positively identified there.
There may be many more, but some will occur only locally and some will be very hard to find.
As with a great many common plants, violets have been used in medicine for centuries. Hippocrates, himself, apparently made use of common violets for some purposes.
Many of the doctors of the Middle Ages thought that violets had great healing properties. Some folk even credited them with reducing the pain, and even slowing the growth of cancer.
Pythagoras used violet leaves the way we do spinach, and the French still use the shoots for salads.
In the U.S., commercial perfume still is made using some species of violet, which grow very profusely in the eastern states.
Violets are so popular, in fact, that Illinois, Wisconsin, New Jersey, and Rhode Island all have adopted them as the state flower.
Many violets can be transplanted into your garden. You just have to take care to provide them with the same type of growing conditions which they have in the wild.
It’s probably better to purchase domestic varieties for the garden, anyway.
Incidentally, pansies and violas (Johnny-jump-ups) are really violets, which have been domesticated for centuries.
And the Dog-toothed Violet, or Adder’s Tongue, is not a violet at all, but a lily.
So, along in late April and May, keep your eyes open for the little violets of spring. There are species for nearly every location—dry, wet, shady, open.
They are some of the daintiest little flowers we have.

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