Violets – Almost everyone loves violets and associates them with spring. But violets have played an interesting role in history as well. As a token of his love, Napoleon was known to have presented the Empress Josephine with a bouquet of her favorite sweet-scented violets on each anniversary. However when Josephine had not produced an heir after 13 years of marriage, Napoleon divorced her and married the young Marie Louise, who quickly provided him with a son to carry on his dynasty. When Napoleon died, his locket contained a lock of Josephine’s hair and pressed violets, evidence of his everlasting love. Violets have played a role in local New York history as well. Rhinebeck, NY, on the east bank of the Hudson River was the self-proclaimed City of Violets. At the turn of the last century, when fragrant European violets were all the rage for bouquets and nosegays, unused estate greenhouses were used for the growing of these violets, which were sent by train to Manhattan and to cities beyond.
Violets come in a variety of colors: all shades of lavender through purple, as well as white and yellow. A European species, Viola tricolor, known in this country as Johnny jump up exhibits all three colors. It’s from a cross of two other European violets that the popular garden pansies were developed.
Our native violets are commonly pollinated by an early-flying butterfly known as the West Virginia White, which in the caterpillar stage feeds on members of the cress family including the toothworts.