Our Largest Violet

birdsfoot violet

What’s that lavender haze along the roadside? That plucky little wildflower in the clearcut? That big-as-a-pansy violet with the oh-so-not-violet-like leaves? It’s bird’s foot violet, Viola pedata, a tough little plant with a beautiful flower. We find violets in all sorts of habitats here on the Domain — wet, dry, acidic, more basic. Some, like the common blue violet, have acclimated just fine to life among people. Others thrive alongside our woodland wildflowers. Bird’s foot violet seems to like it sandy and dry, and sometimes I wonder if it doesn’t prefer mineral soil to humus.

Violets bloom in response to day length. Many of those that are blooming now will put out flowers again in late summer when the days shorten to this length. And many of them have a secret weapon — flowers that never open at all but produce prodigious numbers of seeds anyway! Don’t look for the non-opening (cleistogamous) flowers on bird’s foot violet — it doesn’t have them. Do look for two flower variations — usually all of the petals (like those shown here) are the same color, but occasionally you’ll find flowers whose two upper petals are a very dark purple.  Violets throw their seeds several inches from the mother plant. Also, each seed has a yummy attachment (elaiosome) that ants love. So ants will pick up seeds and carry them to their nests where they eat the elaiosomes and leave the seeds to germinate.


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