COMMON BLUE VIOLET
Botanical Name: Viola sororia
Plant Family: Violet (Violaceae)
Description: A 5-6 inch perennial with broad heart-shaped leaves. The flower grows on a stem separate from the leaves and leans modestly toward the ground. The upper four petals act as flags to attract pollinators, while the lower petal serves as a landing pad. Hairs about the nectar entrance provide a grip for insects and also guard the nectar from dilution by rain. The veins of color on the petals, which show more intensely in ultraviolet (as seen by bees), guides them to the nectar source. As a bee lands, pollen shakes from the hidden anthers onto its body. The blossoms are not strongly scented.
Despite all their attractions, especially to Mason and Halictid bees, common blue violets are not typically pollinated by insects. Most seeds are formed in cleistogamous flowers, which form lower on the plant or underground, do not open, and are self-pollinated.
Growing Conditions: From partial sun to light shade. Not tolerant of heat. Often considered weeds because of their tendency to colonize lawns. Found in ditches, meadows, wastelands, woodlands with moist soil.
Bloom Time: Early, Apr-May
Bloom Color: Purple
Benefit to pollinators/wildlife: Host plant to fritillary butterflies (that is, the caterpillars eat the leaves). Bees and skippers are attracted to the nectar, and Syrphid flies eat the pollen. Ants carry away the seeds to gnaw the eliasomes (nutritious lumps that form on the seed coats), but can't penetrate the hard shells of the seeds and leave them buried, where they can germinate safely out of reach of seed predators.
Native Status: Native and found throughout eastern and central US. Named as state flower of New Jersey.
Location in habitat: Monarch Way Station.