Violets - Violettes

Some two years ago a large area of woodland close by was felled. The stumps are regrowing and many of the young stems are well over two metres high. The site nevertheless remains an unsightly mess of dead brushwood and left over logs. But the clearance has done the violets a good service. There are so many of them, that it makes me think that as with foxgloves the seeds are stimulated to germinate by the disturbance and exposure to light. The flowers of violets are intricately designed to be pollinated by bees. The flower itself bends down and rain does not enter. The pollen sacs of the stamens are fused in a ring around the stalk of the style (the female receptor for the pollen) except for a crack facing downwards. The pollen sacs release the pollen inwards to a cavity around the style so that the only means of escape for the pollen from the flower is through this crack. The two lower stamens each side of the crack have two long projections which extend into the spur. These projections secrete nectar. When a bee forces its proboscis into the spur to reach the nectar it pushes against the crack, which then opens and pollen falls from the cavity above onto its head. If it then goes to another flower, the style of that flower which is bent like a downward hook will pick up the pollen from the bee's head.

The violets unhappily have not considered the adaptability of some insects. Quite often one sees a hole drilled in the spur by some creature which has taken a short cut to the nectar. The books claim that this is caused by a bee. Until I see whatever does it, doing it, I have some doubt.

Towards the end of the flowering season the plant produces tiny flowers near the base which never open. These flowers contain all the necessary reproductive parts and self-pollination occurs within the unopened flowers. Eventually the seeds are enclosed in a fruit which on drying, can press the seeds out like a pip pressed between finger and thumb, and the seeds can fly up to a metre from the parent.

The violet illustrated is the common dog violet (Viola riviniana),which the French call the violette sauvage. It has no smell and the spur has normally a whitish yellow hue. But not far off I have found five other species of violets, of which only two have a scent, Viola odorata and V. alba. They also have hairy stems.

I rejoice even more in this profligacy of flowers because the violet leaves are food for eight of the beautiful species of fritillary butterfly which fly in this region. The messy felling of the woodland at least brings some reward.

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