With warmer weather and spring rains upon us, lawns and landscaping become the forefront of most people’s focus. As the grass greens, wildflowers of all sorts have begun popping up, with violets becoming particularly noticeable in turf areas. The turf industry often views violets as a troublesome weed because they cause the landscape to appear unkempt. However, with all sorts of different variations native to our region, violets may actually be one of the most misunderstood wildflowers this time of year due to their large family size and ability to grow just about anywhere in various forms.
The most common species, Wild Violet or Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia), is easy to identify in early spring as they sprout in bright purple patches - reproducing from underground root stalks. With a short lived flowering time they will most certainly be gone as soon as the temperatures rise - the flowers tend not to do well in full sun. The most colorful and sturdy specimens are typically encountered in moist, moderately shaded forests where light is filtered through the trees.
While the flowers are still present they provide a valuable food source for butterflies and other pollinators – particularly fritillary butterflies when they are in their larval stage. Larger patches can provide cover for small wildlife and seeds provide a food source for cardinals and other song birds. After seeding, the green foliage dies off by late fall and will stay dormant until March.
The Parklands pollinator garden, between the PNC Achievement Center and the Gheens Foundation Lodge, is home to one particularly beautiful species, the Labrador Violet (Viola labridorica). What sets the Labrador apart from other native species is its dark, purple foliage - turning to a unique bronze/green color as summer temperatures increase. Violets are fairly easy to maintain by simply cutting back winter-damaged foliage in spring and shearing back old flower growth to stimulate new blooms.
Like Dandelions, Violet blooms and young leaves are edible - providing an excellent replacement for spinach while offering a tasty source of Vitamin C. The rhizomes should be avoided at all costs as they can cause stomach issues. When harvesting violets it is very important to not collect plants that have been anywhere near the use of herbicides or chemicals.
As you can see, there's a lot more than meets the eye for these little purple flowers!Story and photo by Nathan Strange, Zone Gardener Nathan joined The Parklands staff in 2014 as a Gardener and currently oversees the areas around the Egg Lawn, the Pollination Garden at PNC Achievement Center/Gheens Foundation Lodge, and manages the collection and propagation of native plants within the park. While attending University of Kentucky for a degree in Natural Resource Conservation & Management, Nathan worked as a naturalist at Natural Bridge State Resort Park and as a field technician for Floracliff Nature Sanctuary - specializing in program development, native plant alternatives, and invasive species removal. In 2011, Nathan published “A Guide to the Knobstone Trail: Indiana’s Longest Footpath” with Indiana University Press - representing three years of independent research while highlighting his love for hiking and the outdoors.
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