Exalted in popular culture by the all too familiar lines of the clever Valentine,
"Roses are red, violets are blue...,"
the humble violet is a stalwart of the woodland margins and rural roadsides of the Tar Heel State this time of year. They are so ubiquitous, in fact, that it is difficult to venture into any natural area in mid- to late-April and not encounter a patch of these lovely blue sprites.
A careful reading of the popular rhyme, however, reveals that the poem refers to violets plural,
not violet singular,
thus highlighting a most important truth about this little blue star of the botanical realm...
According to various sources, North Carolina is home to more than twenty distinct species of violet, all found in the Genus Viola, several of which occur in multiple varieties, and a fair number of which hybridize readily with neighboring species.
Yes. Violets are blue,
but which violet?
Just this week, within a few miles of home,
we've encountered Viola affinis, Viola brittoniana, and Viola pedata;
sand violet, coast violet, and bird-foot violet.
All lovely, all violets, all blue.
Wait, wait, not so fast!
Hunter says no way this flower is blue...
So which is it, violet,
blue or violet?
Another of nature's little mysteries,
waiting for you just outside the door...