Writing my way through the A-to-Z blogging challenge, I’ll be using manicules (those pointing finger symbols) to direct your attention to something I’m pondering that delights or interests me. Each entry is somehow related to an unusual, obscure, or simply charming to me word.
V is for…
violescent – tending to a violet color. First recorded usage 1840.
I find violet to be such a lovely color, and I have a special love for violet-colored flowers. And what finer example of violescent that Violet herself? She’s a perfect Spring-time harbinger.
It’s true I’m enchanted by flowers – I can hardly look at them enough, marveling at how they reach for the light, how they unfold their petals, how they produce such beautiful scents, how they invite bees and butterflies to drink deeply of their nectar and dust themselves in pollen. It all seems so magical and proof of the goodness of the universe.
But violets are extra special. I think of them as such curious creatures. I once read, a very long time ago, something that struck me so much I wrote it out. I’m longer sure it’s true – I haven’t ever found anything saying the same thing, but somehow I like holding it as true. The passage said “they produce flowers in both Spring and Autumn, but the flowers are different. In Spring they are fully formed and sweetly scented and this is how we likely picture them. But these flowers are mostly barren. Later in Autumn, they produce very small “insignificant” flowers, quite hidden among their leaves, and these produce lots of seeds.” The Violet also propagates itself by sending out runners, and these in turn grow roots and become new plants, without the necessity of seeding at all. Just ot be clear, I’m talking here about wild violets, not the cultivated African houseplant violets, which I also love.
There are two suggestions as to how Violet got her name. The more mundane suggests it derives from Vias, meaning wayside which is where the flowers often appear. But the Latin word viola derives from the Greek name Ione. And it is said that Zeus, wary of Juno’s jealousy, turned his beloved lover Io into a white heifer. Because Io found it unpleasant to have to graze on what was available, Zeus created violets especially for her.
Besides being delightful for their appearance and fragrance, violets also have long been important in the herbal arts. They were often thought to cure hangovers, and ancient Romans sometimes wore head wreaths made from violets when hungover. Greeks used the plants to induce sleep, calm anger, and strengthen the heart. With their typically heart-shaped leaves, the doctrine of signatures suggested they were useful in the treatment of heart conditions. Violets also contain a great deal of natural sugar and have earned a strong position in the culinary arts. They’re crystalized, made into syrups and marmalades, and of course simply enjoyed as decorative additions to salads and confections.
In Victorian floriography, the language of flowers, violets connoted modesty, virtue, affection, innocence. As one of the flowers that heralds Spring, I think that’s a lovely association. We tend to think of Spring as bursting with vibrancy, but it’s always a gentle transition into that all-out exuberance, and violets are quiet and genial wayshowers.
Many of my neighbors prescribe to the belief that a meticulously manicured lawn, often enhanced with complex chemical regimes, is a thing of beauty. This is not a view I share. We all have tiny tiny tiny postage-sized lots, so the amount of area available for perfect lawn cultivation is far more limited than you might imagine. Still, it’s enough area to allow me to enjoy a bit of bohemian expression. My lawn is filled with wild violets, and clover, and an occasional patch of thyme.
There was a time when early lawns were designed to have pretty things pop up in them, and clover was even included in early seed mixes. How far we’ve travelled from that route to one that, according to one pro-wilder, “aspires to artificially perfect, eco-insensitive, mono-cultural, and globally warming.” Things, of course, are changing these days, and more people are embracing more natural plants. Alas, not all my neighbors whole-heartedly support this trend.
I, on the other hand, truly love wild violets, with their heart-shaped leaves and pretty Spring blossoms. Bonus points because they offer some pollination assurance. Native bees often find patches of wild violets in the Spring, and decide this may well be a good place to hang out, thereby offering assistance to later-flowering plants. And you know I love those bees!
There are more than 75 native species of violets in North America, and hundreds more that have been hybrid. So there’s room for all kinds of violet love.
It’s not only the flowers I love. Remembering that violescent means violet-colored, I can’t help but think that in the color spectrum, violet has the shortest wavelength and the highest frequency. There’s something very magical about that. The connection of violet to the spiritual realms and moving from the borders of seen to unseen are pronounced.
Are you a lover of all things violet? Have a favorite Spring flower? Do tell – you know I love to hear.