Wild violets, beautiful whether they're scented or not


Wild violets, beautiful whether they're scented or not

From March, wild violet flowers can be seen in many a British lawn, providing the gardener isn't too ruthless with this pretty 'weed'. There are several common species of this low-growing perennial, including the scented Sweet Violet and the unscented Common Dog-Violet.

Viola odorata, or sweet violet, is principally a woodland plant but, like the dog violet, can often be found sneaking onto lawns. It is widespread but less common in Scotland or Wales. The flowers are blue-violet or white.

The ancient Greeks used sweet violets to make perfume and the Romans to make wine. Part of the popularity of the violet in perfume and toiletries is due to its distinctive scent - few other flowers having a remotely similar odour.

Viola riviniana, the unscented common dog-violet (pictured), is originally native to Eurasia and Africa. It is also called wood violet and is now a common perennial throughout the UK. It has heart-shaped leaves, bluish-purple flowers. It is found in deciduous woods and hedge banks, but can also grow in pastures, mountain rocks and along country lanes. It can be an indicator of lost ancient woodland, and mass germination can occur when a wood is coppiced.

The common dog violet was voted the county flower of Lincolnshire in 2002, following a poll by the wild plant conservation charity Plantlife.

The 'Dog' of its name refers to its lack of scent. Dog, like horse, is a common English prefix for distinguishing an inferior species from its superior relative. The dog violet is an important larval food for some of Britain's most threatened and declining butterflies: the fritillaries.

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