Purple violets, along with pansies and violas, are members of the Violaceae plant family. Violets are a genus of spring flowering plants with around 400 to 500 species. They are native to temperate Northern Hemisphere and are also distributed in Hawaii, Australasia and the Andes in South America. Some species of Viola are perennials while others are annuals and a few are small shrubs.
Violets typically have heart-shaped scalloped leaves and a vast majority of the viola species are herbaceous. The flowers are formed from five petals. The shape of the petals and placement defines many species. Violets often bloom in spring, but many species produce self-pollinated flowers in summer and autumn.
True violets have been known for centuries with ancient Greeks cultivating them about 500BC. Both Greeks and Romans have found many uses for violets including herbal remedies, wine and to sweeten food. The Ancient Greeks considered Violets the symbol of love and fertility.
Violets are easy to cultivate through root cuttings or seeds. They are easily grown in sun or shade and are best grown in the dappled shade of a deciduous tree. Violets like well-drained and fairly rich soil so work in a spade full or two of compost at planting time for best results. Plan violets four to six weeks before your region’s last frost date and plant them 4 to 8 inches apart. Water moderately for they do not need huge amounts of water. Fertilize once after blooming starts. Not all species of violets are desired- wild violets are considered weeds by some people and are regarded as a problem in shady lawns in North America.
Viola flowers have many uses including being used to decorate salads or in stuffing for poultry or fish. An extract of violets make a sweet syrup used by the French and the Americans to make violet scones and marshmallows. Violets have also been used as a source of scents in the perfume industry.
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