AskDefine | Define violets

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  1. Plural of violet

Extensive Definition

Viola, commonly called Violets, is a genus of flowering plants in the family Violaceae, with around 400-500 species distributed around the world. Most species are found in the temperate Northern Hemisphere, however viola species are also found in widely divergent areas such as Hawaii, Australasia, and the Andes in South America.
Most Viola species are small perennial plants, some are annual plants, and a few are small shrubs. A number of species are grown for their ornamental flowers in borders and rock gardens; the garden pansy in particular is an extensively used spring and autumn/winter bedding and pot plant.


Viola species typically have heart-shaped, scalloped leaves, though a number have palmate leaves or other shapes. The vast majority of Viola species are herbaceous, however a substantial number are acaulescent in habit without any noticeable stems, while the others have short stems with flowers produced in the axils of the leaves. The simple leaves of plants with either habit are arranged alternately; the acaulescent species produce basal rosettes. Plants always have leaves with stipules that are often leaf-like.
The flowers of the vast majority of the species are zygomorphic with bilateral symmetry. The flowers are formed from five petals; four are upswept or fan-shaped petals with two per side, and there is one broad, lobed lower petal pointing downward. The shape of the petals and placement defines many species, for example, some Viola species have a "spur" on the end of each petal while most have a spur on the lower petal.
Solitary flowers are produced on long stalks with a pair of bracteoles, and have 5 sepals that remain persistent after blooming, although the sepals sometimes enlarge after blooming. The flowers have five free stamens with short filaments that are oppressed against the ovary, with only the lower two stamens having nectary spurs that are inserted on the lowest petal into the spur or pouch. The flower styles are thickened near the top and the stigmas are head-like, narrowed or often beaked. The flowers have a superior ovary that is one celled with three placentae, containing many ovules.
After flowering, fruit capsules are produced that split open by way of three valves. Viola flowers are most often spring blooming with chasmogamous flowers with well developed petals pollinated by insects. Many species also produce self-pollinated cleistogamous flowers in summer and autumn that do not open and lack petals. The nutlike seeds have straight embryos, flat cotyledons, and soft fleshy endosperm that is oily. The seeds are often spread by ants.
Flower colours vary in the genus, ranging from violet, as their common name suggests, through various shades of blue, yellow, white, and cream, whilst some types are bicolored, often blue and yellow. Many cultivars and hybrids have been bred in a greater spectrum of colours. Flowering is often profuse, and may last for much of the spring and summer.
One quirk of some viola is the elusive scent of their flowers; along with terpenes, a major component of the scent is a ketone compound called ionone, which temporarily desensitises the receptors in the nose; this prevents any further scent being detected from the flower.



When newly opened, Viola flowers may be used to decorate salads or in stuffings for poultry or fish. Soufflés, cream and similar desserts can be flavoured with essence of Viola flowers. The young leaves are edible raw or cooked as a somewhat bland leaf vegetable.
A candied violet or crystallized violet is a flower, usually of Viola odorata, preserved by a coating of egg white and crystallised sugar. Alternately, hot syrup is poured over the fresh flower (or the flower is immersed in the syrup), and stirred until the sugar recrystallizes, and is dried. This method is still used for rose petals, was applied for orange flowers in the past (when almonds or orange peel are treated this way they are called pralines). Candied violets are still made commercially at Toulouse, France, where they are known as violettes de Toulouse. They are used as decorating or included in aromatic desserts.
Viola flavours the liqueurs Creme Yvette, Creme de Violette, and Parfait d'Amour. It is also used in Parma Violets.


The flowers, leaves and roots of various Viola species are used for medicinal purposes, being rich in vitamins A and C. They also contain a type of antioxidant called an anthocyanin. Viola flowers are also used to make an herbal tea that is used in Chinese herbal medicine.


Viola odorata is used as a source for scents in the perfume industry.

By other species

Viola species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species, including the Giant Leopard Moth, Large Yellow Underwing, Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing, High Brown Fritillary and Setaceous Hebrew Character.

Selected species

See List of Viola species for a more complete list. Note: Neither Saintpaulia ("African violets") nor Erythronium dens-canis ("Dogtooth violets") are related to the true Viola.
The genus includes the Dog Violets, a group of scentless species which are the most common viola in many areas, the Sweet Violet Viola odorata (named from its sweet scent), and many other species whose common name includes the word "violet". Several species are known as pansies, including the Yellow Pansy of the Pacific coasts.
The Common Blue Violet Viola sororia is the state flower of Wisconsin, Rhode Island, Illinois, and New Jersey.
Australia is home to a number of Viola species, including Viola hederacea, Viola betonicifolia and Viola banksii, first collected by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander on the Cook voyage to Botany Bay.
The modern Garden Pansy (V. × wittrockiana) is a plant of complex hybrid origin involving at least three species, V. tricolor (Wild Pansy or Heartsease), V. altaica and V. lutea (Mountain Pansy).


  • ITIS (Accessed December 2 2002)
  • The Oxford Companion to Food, by Alan Davidson, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-211579-0
  • Larousse Gastronomique, by Prosper Montagne (Ed.), Clarkson Potter, 2001. ISBN 0-609-60971-8

External links

violets in Arabic: البنفسج
violets in Bulgarian: Теменуга
violets in Catalan: Viola (gènere)
violets in Czech: Violka
violets in Danish: Viol
violets in Hebrew: סגל (סוג)
violets in German: Veilchen
violets in Spanish: Viola (género)
violets in Persian: بنفشه
violets in French: Viola (genre végétal)
violets in Upper Sorbian: Fijałka
violets in Italian: Viola (botanica)
violets in Georgian: ია
violets in Lithuanian: Našlaitė
violets in Hungarian: Ibolya (virág)
violets in Dutch: Viooltje
violets in Japanese: スミレ属
violets in Norwegian: Fioler
violets in Norwegian Nynorsk: Fiolar
violets in Polish: Fiołek
violets in Portuguese: Viola (planta)
violets in Northern Sami: Violat
violets in Simple English: Violet (plant)
violets in Serbian: Љубичица
violets in Finnish: Orvokit
violets in Swedish: Violer
violets in Turkish: Menekşe
violets in Ukrainian: Фіалка
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