Sweet Viola

Credit: Ernst Kucklich

Called “forward” by Shakespeare for blooming early, violets have been loved and cultivated by humans since 400 BC. In The Language of Flowers, however, they represent modesty, as their flowers are often hidden in the long grasses of a sunny meadow. Curiously, violets are both forward and modest in their reproductive habits.

While these colorful flowers hide their pistils and stamens within, they flirt with passing insects with “come hither” stripes to guide incoming pollinators. Yet most Viola species also have a backup plan when it comes to pollination. When light levels drop as overhead trees leaf out, plants produce flowers that look like little unopened buds. Within, however, self-pollination takes place and abundant seed is produced and later expelled. This ensures new generations, even without the evolutionary benefit of cross-pollination.