By Suzanne Wodek
Often referred to as meadow violet, purple violet or wood violet, Viola sororia is a low-growing perennial with leaves and flowers that emerge from underground rhizomes. The leaves are heart-shaped with serrated edges. The flower has five petals: two upper, two lateral and one bottom. Near the center are tiny hairs that keep rain from diluting the nectar and give insects something to hold onto, making the pollination process easier. The caterpillars of many Fritillary butterflies feed on the leaves. Violets prefer partial sun or light shade and moist to average conditions. They can tolerate full sun if there is sufficient moisture. The soil should be a rich, silty loam.
Many gardeners consider violets a lawn weed because of their prolific nature. Use this characteristic to your landscape advantage and plant violets as a groundcover in your shade garden or rock garden. They do well in containers. Consider violets as a food source also. Among the most popular edible flowers in America, they are a nice addition to salads as a garnish or can be made into candies. The leaves are high in vitamins A and C and can be eaten raw or cooked like spinach.
The Cherokee used this plant to treat colds and headaches. In the early 1800s, publications claimed that Viola sororia could be used for coughs, sore throats, consumption and dysentery.
Other violets in the Botanical Garden’s collection include Viola canadensis, Canada violet; Viola sororia f. priceana, Confederate violet; Viola pedata, bird-foot violet; and Viola rotundifolia, roundleaf yellow violet.
The Botanical Gardens, located at 151 W.T. Weaver Boulevard, is a nonprofit organization housing a collection of plants native to the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated and memberships are encouraged. Learn more at ashevillebotanicalgardens.org.