By Terry Deem-Reilly, Colorado Master GardenerSM, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Denver
The lovely, dainty flower that appears in borders, lawns, and containers every spring is a member of the family violaceae, a group of annuals and perennials found throughout the Northern Hemisphere, and in southern and eastern Africa, South America, Australia, and New Zealand.
Strictly speaking, sweet violets, bedding violas, and pansies are all classified as "violas." Sweet violets are descended from the European wild sweet violet, v. odorata; bedding violas (the flower that we usually call "violas") were hybridized from pansies and v. cornuta. Pansies developed from the wild violas v. lutea and v. tricolor ("johnny-jump-up"). Sixty species are native to the U.S. and about 100 varieties are offered for sale.
Violas come in a huge variety of colors, including white, yellow, lavender, blue, and pink; in bicolors or tricolors, and with speckles. Pansies, of course, often show a distinctive blotching that resembles a face. All plants have oval or heart-shaped leaves about 1" to 2" long, and flowers from 1" to 4" wide. Plants forms mounds between 8" to 12" high.
Many wild violas have two types of flowers - the colored (and sterile) blossom and ground-level cleistogamous flowers, which lack petals and produce seed. Pansies and bedding violas usually produce seed in their ornamental blossoms.
Violas prefer cool, moist weather, part shade, and rich humusy soil. Bloom time does not last through hot weather but can be extended through the spring with regular deadheading. Many perennial varieties will spread by self-sowing or by runners; annuals can be purchased from nurseries or sown directly in pots or beds in early spring. Some annual varieties like johnny-jump-up will reseed.
Perennial violets and perennial bedding violas are classified as heirloom, double, parmas, new violet, or viola in the trade. Some common varieties are listed by category:
Heirloom - 'Baronne Alice de Rothschild', 'Coeur d'Alsace', 'Czar', and 'La France'
Double - 'Comte de Chambord', 'Double Blue', 'Double Rose', and 'Double White'
Parmas (from the 16th century, will like warmer weather)- 'Duchesse de Parma', 'Marie Louise', and 'Parme de Toulouse'
New violets - 'Cottle Stripe', 'Crepuscule', 'Wren's Pink', 'Royal Elk', and 'Reid's Crimson Carpet'
Violas - 'Irish Molly', 'Etain', 'Rebecca', and 'Molly Sanderson'
A few Internet sources for unusual plant varieties are:
Try these sources for seeds:
Alpains, Kiowa, Colorado
Photos: Judy Sedbrook
© CSU/Denver County Extension Master Gardener 2010
888 E. Iliff Avenue, Denver, CO 80210
Date last revised: 01/05/2010