Daffodils are ready to burst in the yard and garden centers are overflowing with pretty pansies and violets. I’ve always loved the dainty faces of the Viola genus which includes over 500 species. Pansies, violets, and Johnny-jump-ups are all part of this easy-to-grow family.
I first fell in love with violets when I was about five years old. They dotted the field next to our house and I would always pick bunches of them for my mother. And the first time I made a card for her, I drew a bunch of them on the cover. Every time I see wild violets along the road, I think of her.
Violets are Illinois’ state flower (where I live), thanks to a vote in 1907 by schoolchildren. The most common species in Illinois is the dooryard violet which blooms twice a year with tiny flowers more purple than blue.
Violets are edible and their petals and stems contain high amounts of Vitamin C. The earliest known use of the flower dates back to Ancient Greece around 500 B.C. The Greeks used violets in wines, food, and medicine, so it’s no wonder that violets became the symbol of Athens.
I’ve coated violets with sugar and used them to decorate cakes. They look pretty on shortbread or sugar cookies, too. The common blue violet grows up to eight inches tall and has heart-shaped leaves. The flowers are typically light to deep violet in color, but you’ll also find them in white.
The Many Faces of Pansies
One thing to remember about all of the viola varieties, including pansies, is that they prefer cooler weather. And while they enjoy at least six hours of sun per day, they don’t like the peak of summer heat. With that in mind, you might choose to plant pansies in containers so that you can move them out of hot sun during the dog days of summer.
When I was growing up, our next-door neighbor had a garden of pansies and she always asked if I wanted to pick some. This was such a treat because I’d always been told not to pick the flowers in our garden. At first I felt like I was doing something bad by picking Mrs. Otis’ pansies, but she assured me that the more I picked, the more they’d bloom. She’d even ask me to pick her pansies when she went on vacation.
Pansies have heart-shaped, overlapping petals and come in a wide range of colors. The flowers are larger and rounder than violas. They’re super easy to grow and aren’t very expensive. Use pansies to give your garden a jolt of color in the spring or fall.
Also known as viola tricolor, or wild pansies, Johnny-jump-ups are a European wildflower and is the ancestor to cultivated pansies. The flowers can be blue, purple, yellow, or white and are approximate one-half-inch in diameter atop short stems.
Johnny-jump-ups are more heat tolerant than pansies and are a better choice for enduring long summer days. I’ve planted them in window boxes since they can stand the heat. They enjoy full sun to partial shade and look especially whimsical planted between shrubs or trees.
The Scientific Scoop on Violets, Pansies, and Johnny-Jump-Ups
The next time you see a violet-type flower and aren’t sure of its actual name (because let’s face it, a lot of them do look alike), you can call it a viola and be correct. Their dainty faces are a wonder to behold and they look pretty no matter where they pop up. I even enjoy seeing them spread naturally through lawns.
If you’re thirsting for more scientific background on this wonderful genus, check out the scoop on Go Botany of the Native Plant Trust.