Thursday, September 24, 2009

Shy Violets? Not So Much!

The other violet flower

Last year, at Morven Museum, we had an infestation of one of the worst historic-garden pests I know: archeologists! I do realize that it's extremely important to make absolutely certain there's no crockery in a spot that will, ultimately, be built upon, and therefore it's necessary to dig holes of grave-like proportions. But in the process of determining that there were in fact no buried treasures, living plants were murdered and soil was up-ended. That is, what had been down was turned up and what was up is now down. Curiously this caused an explosion of violets in spring. The long-buried caches of seeds (I'm guessing) were brought to the surface and reveled so in their first exposure to sunlight after decades of darkness that they all germinated. I can understand this reaction. From past experience with violets I know what this means. Either I learn to love my new woodland groundcover--and I do love the delicate nodding flowers--or I harden my heart and dig them out, roots and all. Halfway measures will not work. And I'll tell you why.
There are violets you see, and violets you don't see. Where stem meets soil, the unseen flowers lurk. Dig a violet up and you'll find what looks like a bud, but is actually a flower, a cleistogamous flower, the kind that produces viable seed without ever opening and with no help from pollinators. And, as if that's not enough of a procreative advantage, violet seeds have a sugar-rich appendage called an elaiosome that is so appetizing to ants that they drag the seeds home to the safety of their nests, eat the good part, and leave the rest to germinate in a medium made rich from their waste. Meanwhile, above ground, the violet flowers we know and love form seed pods that burst when ripe, catapulting the seeds in all directions.
Triple advantage: Violets.
Triple nuisance: Gardeners.
We may as well just learn to get along with these ubiquitous volunteers. Pulling them out always sets off a bout of guilt anyway ...

1 comment:

  1. Great article, Pam! I knew about those below-surface seeds, but always assumed they were from the above-ground flowers. After making the mistake of "enjoying the flowers" in my vegetable garden years ago, I now dig up every violet I see there with a vengeance.