Honoring the Yellow Violet

Whenever I see the first blooming violet of the year in Eliza Howell Park, as I did this week, I think of the lines from Bobby Vinton’s song from about 60 years ago:

“Roses are red, my love / Violets are blue….”

Probably the primary reason for thinking of these lyrics is that the first violet in the park each year is not blue. It is yellow.

The Yellow Violet is the second woodland wildflower to bloom this year in the park, following Spring Beauty, which I wrote about last time.

Blue Violets are more common, but they come a little later. There are often found in the fields and in yards and are not restricted to woodlands. To me they look more purple than blue; the color violet was named for the flower, I understand.

There are other varieties and colors of violets, as well. This collage is of 4 I found on an April day last year.

Today I am honoring the Yellow Violet, a species that I was not aware of for a good part of my life. It thrives in the same rich organic Eliza Howell locations that are home to Spring Beauty and other early spring flowers, ike Cut-leaved Toothwort and Trout Lily.

Yellow Violet plants grow in clusters and often there is only one flower to a plant. The flowers are very small, maybe 1/2 inch across, on plants that early on the season are very close to the ground.

In this close-up look, it is easy to note the purple or brownish lines that are found most abundantly on the lowest of the 5 petals. Not quite so easy to see is the fact that the side petals are a little “bearded” or hairy.

The Yellow Violet (sometimes called Downy Yellow Violet) is native to almost all of eastern and central North America, though found only in some areas of each of these states and provinces. (The range map is from the USDA.)

The best time to view any of the early spring woodland wildflowers is on a sunny day, after the blooms have opened up after closing up overnight. On a cloudy day, they usually open only partially, as shown here, making the tiny flowers even more difficult to find.

Most people know that not all roses are red. Probably fewer know that not all violets are blue.

The poet William Cullen Bryant knew the Yellow Violet well and placed it very precisely in this part of spring.

“When beechen buds begin to swell / And woods the blue-bird’s warble know / The Yellow Violet’s modest bell / Peeps from last year’s leaves below.”

(Opening lines of “The Yellow Violet,” 1821)

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