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Violas and Pansies, Their Origins and Impact

Updated on August 8, 2015

Some of the Viola tribe

Taken from the book by Elizabeth Twining 1805-1889
Taken from the book by Elizabeth Twining 1805-1889 | Source

Viola family

Viola is the old Latin name for the flower from which the genus is named. This genus contains between four and five hundred species.They belong to the order Malpighiales and the family Violaceae. The species consist of annual and perennial plants and a small number of small shrubs. In most cases the leaves are all radical, but where a stem is present the leaves are alternate.

The flowers produced from the axils are borne singly rarely two flowered. They each have five sepals which remain attached to the resulting seed capsules, are nearly equal, their bases extended a little beyond the attachment to the receptacle. They each have five petals, erect or spreading, the lowest one the largest. they are spurred at the base.The style is swollen at the tip. The stigma often cup shaped. The seed vessel is three valved, elastic. The petals are often suppressed and the calyx in such flowers remain closed, but the resulting capsules produce good seed. They are distributed throughout the temperate regions of the world.

Sweet violet Viola odorata.


History of Violas

The historical content refers to the species being native or introductions to the UK, however they are grown throughout much of the world in gardens and as decorative container plants. Several species of Viola and several sub species are native to Britain, among them the violet Viola odorata, it therefore appears to be very probable that the Sweet violet was among the first plants to be found in the first gardens made in England.

Many species of Viola have been introduced from other countries but most of them {in the early days at least} were of botanical rather than of horticultural interest. Viola suavis, the Russian violet, however, was commonly cultivated; It was introduced from Tauri in around 1817. V.blanda, which is only faintly sweet scented came from North America in the early 1800s.

Others have been introduced and cultivated on account of their large flowers in spite of having little or no fragrance. Such a species was V.cucullata from North America introduced 1762.V.cornuta, a native of the Pyrenees , introduced around 1762, was crossed with the sub species lutea of our native V.tricolor, and produced the favoured and appreciated bedding violas of the 1800s. Whether the magnificent garden pansies had been produced soley by selection from V.tricolor, or whether that species had been crossed with V.altaica and V.rothmagensis was open to dispute.

V.tricolor has been grown in gardens for as long as gardens have been created. However, it was not until the early 1800s that anything was done in the way of improving it. Indeed, it was Lady M.Tennant and her gardener, Mr. Richardson, that brought about considerable improvements by way of careful selection. By the late 1800s the varieties were simply innumerable and exceedingly popular as they deserved to be.

Pansy tricolor var maxima


A Look at the species

Viola altaica {native of the Altaian Mountains} a montane region in east central Asia where Russia,China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan come together. This species has slender creeping and oval leaves with wedge shaped, toothed, stipules.

The flowers are large and yellow, with a spur and appeared from March to June. The species was introduced from Siberia in 1805.

Viola blanda. the sweet white violet, also known as large leaf white violet,woodland white violet.It was introduced from North America in 1802. it has a creeping root-stock and kidney shaped leaves covered by a delicate down. The flowers are small and white, faintly scented, short spurred, the lateral petals veined with lilac. Flowers early spring.

In North America it is also referred to as Willdenow's violet, where it occurs in parts of south eastern and south central Canada and also in the eastern and north,central United States of America. Once common in the wild it is now considered to be endangered in some regions.

Viola calcarata {calcarata means spurred}, has short , unbranched tufted stems and roundish spoon-shaped leaves with rounded teeth. Stipules are cut into three or more in a palmate manner.

The flowers are large, purple, spur slender as long as the petals. The sepals oblng with glandular teeth. the y flower from March to July. they were introduced from Austria in the late 1700s.

Viola cucullata-the specific name means hooded, has heart shaped leaves on long stalks, erect with blunt teeth. the flowers vary fro pale violet-blue {nearly white} to deep purple, with short, thick spur, on long scapes. they flower in early spring. There used to be a variety called palmata,with some of the leaves cut into three to seven parts.

It is also referred to as the hooded blue violet and marsh blue violet in its native range of eastern North America from Newfoundland west to Ontario and Minnesota and south to Georgia. There are many similar species such as V.nephrophylla {northern bog violet }and V.affinis.

Viola cuculata -Marsh blue violet

originally posted to Flickr as IMG_1805
originally posted to Flickr as IMG_1805 | Source

White violet


Viola species continued

Viola odorata { odorata meaning scented or fragrant} is the sweet violet. the rootstock of this species is short and covered with scars of the previous years leaves, and sending off runners. The leaves are broadly heart shaped, the stipules glandular, the leaf stalk covered with hairs pointing downwards. The leaves enlarge after flowering.

The flowers are fragrant, with nearly straight, short spur. They vary in colour, blue, reddish purple, or white. They flower from March to May. This species has been grown so long in English gardens that it is often referred to as the English violet. Several natural varieties are encountered of which the white form 'alba' is one. In some districts all the wild sweet violets are white, those of the usual colour to be seen in the gardens of early times.

Viola pedata is now referred to as the Birds-foot Violet. Pada means footed, in the form of the leaf. This species differs greatly in the character of its leaves from the usual type in the genus. It has a thick creeping rootstock and leaves divided into six or seven narrower lance-shaped segments arranged like the toes of a bird.Some of the segments may be divided into three teeth at their extremities, others will remain entire.

The flowers are large varying in colour, white, pale blue or {usually} bright blue. None of the petals are bearded. They are produced from May until the end of June. The species is native to North America and introduced to England in the mid 1700s. In addition to the white flowered forms which is known as Variety 'alba' there is V.bicolor with the upper petals of a velvety deep violet and the lower petal blue.

Today two primary colour forms exist V.petala var linearioba and var bicolor. frequently this species blooms a second time in the Autumn, a delightful eccentricity of the family. The spur of the lower petal is very long and slender. The long tongued bees and butterflies are the main visitors to this species.

Viola pedata

3.0 unported license
3.0 unported license | Source

Heart-Ease-Viola tricolor

The stem of this delightful flowering species is branched and wavy- angular. The leaves are ovate-oblong, with distant, rounded saw teeth. The petals spreading, longer than the sepals, pale yellow or lilac, variable in size. they are produced from May until September. The sub-species V.arvensis has erect white or yellowish petals, shorter than the sepals.

Garden pansies. there are now so many varieties of pansies, including the popular white ones, that it would be impossible to name them all. but as we have seen they are bright and cheerful and a worthwhile procurement for any garden, tub or window box. They certainly help to dispel the winter blues.

Cultivation tips

All the species may be readily propagated by seeds, cuttings or root division. Sweet violets should not be placed in a position that is hot and dry. Sandy loam and leaf mould is the soil that suits them best and in hot weather they should receive a mulching, to keep the soil cool and prevent excessive evaporation.

The young runners should be nipped off as soon as they appear, unless required for propagation, in that case no more than three should be left on a plant, and these should be pegged down. At the end of the season when the stems are getting leggy they may be cut back to ground level to encourage new growth. Keep dead heading to produce the maximum flowering period. Seeds made be gathered from the split capsule which divides in to three sections, but does not release the seeds immediately giving you the opportunity to collect them.

Thank you for visiting.

Large pretty faced hybrid


Cheerful faces brighten up a window box



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    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 4 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi aviannovice, glad you enjoyed it. Thank you for your appreciated comments. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Very nicely done, with gorgeous plates and photos.

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 4 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      DDE, Thank you, your comments are appreciated. Thank you for visiting and for taking the time to leaves your thoughts. Best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Beautiful photos and an interesting insight to the different species

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 4 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      pstraubie48, Thank you for being the first to visit. I am glad you enjoyed this hub. Violas and pansies are indeed as you describe, very well,- 'happy and perky' . Thank you also for your kind comments and thoughts. Best wishes to you.

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 4 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      pstraubie48, Thank you for being the first to visit. I am glad you enjoyed this hub. Violas and pansies are indeed as you describe, very well,- 'happy and perky' . Thank you also for your kind comments and thoughts. Best wishes to you.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 4 years ago from sunny Florida

      Lovely pictures and photographs. I love the way that the beauty of many flowers can be captured in drawings and paintings.

      These are some of my favorite flowers...they are so happy and perky. The more exotic plants are lovely too but there is just something special about pansies and violas.

      It is always intriguing to me to read of the history of our plants. Thanks for sharing. Sending Angels your way this morning. :) ps