Was the flower of the violet named after a color or are purple violets so lovely that the color was named after them? That's probably something we'll never know, but one thing for sure is that the violet is a much-admired little blossom.
Four states have chosen the violet as their state flower, and while the only state that has declared the Purple Violet as its emblem is Illinois, New Jersey and Rhode Island have both chosen the Violet as their state flower and the state flower of Wisconsin is the Wood Violet (also purple!).
Oddly enough, the flower most commonly called a violet, the African Violet, isn't a true violet at all! African Violets are Gesneriads and members of the genus, Saintpaulis. They usually are grown as houseplants while true violets are planted outdoors.
Growing violets is a surprise and a pleasure. Tiny perennials re-emerge each year in unexpected places and even some annual cultivars "volunteer" to return for a second season. Plant them in a well-drained area with soil rich in decayed manure and organic matter and they'll delight you with whimsy throughout the summer.
Depending on location, violets bloom as early as mid to late March, early April at latest, and last through mid-summer. As an early spring flower, violets are able to use the filtered sunlight that shines through the barren branches of deciduous trees to ripen their crowns and produce their vivid blooms and rich foliage.
The first flower of spring, you'll find wild violets in backyards, front lawns, and forests. They are equally at home in areas that range from wetlands to woods and also are found intermingling with tall prairie grasses as well. If you've missed seeing the wild violet on your walks, when you're out and about in mid-April, bend down close to any grassy patch and you'll likely see this sweet purple flower as it rests among blades of new grass.
The wild violet is a stemless viola with flowers that blooms from the crown of the plant and leaves that bloom on separate stems. One of the traits of stemless violets is that the flower stem contains no leaves at all, which might lead you to wonder why they aren't called "leafless" violets instead of 'stemless". Both leaves and flowers grow from the crown on separate, short stems.
Heart-shaped leaves distinguish true violet flowers, although one wild violet, the round-leafed yellow violet is notable for its round leaves. Many varieties of pansies have rounded and some elongated leaves.
Oddly enough, the flower of the violet is often noted for its azure tint, as in the poem "Roses are red, violets are blue". Poetry is filled with references to their azure color. In truth, the violet ranges from the palest lavender to the inkiest indigo, depending on what variety you're sweet on.
However, violets are also purple, orange, white, pink, and so on! Violet is the familiar name for members of the Violaceae family in the viola genus. Violet species number over 200 and include pansies and johnny-jump-ups as well as the many varieties of flowers with "violet" in their names. In fact, because of hybridization, some violets, like johnny-jump-ups and many pansies are two and three-colors as well. Still, as we walk through the woods, the wild violet that surprises us with its bright purple display is the sweetest violet of all!
Speaking of sweets, one of the most interesting bits of information about violets is that they are completely edible and have been used both as sweets and as herbal remedies for centuries. The violet is still often candied and used for decorating cakes and pastries.