COMMON DOG VIOLET (Viola riviniana)

Helmdon Road - violets hide in the long grass.

The violet family (which includes the pansies) numbers many species and varieties – books of British wild flowers will name perhaps 16 or 17 species, of which 8 are on the Northamptonshire list. Violets hybridise freely, and this produces frequent colour variants.

The dog violet is one of the commonest species, being often found in deciduous woods or in hedge-banks. It is a spring flower, in bloom from late March on until May. The flowers, on short stems, are usually blue-violet. They are not scented – this distinguishes them from those of the other widespread member of the family, the sweet violet (V. odorata). Another key feature is the shape of the sepals (“petals”): those of the dog violet are pointed, the sweet violet’s are rounded.

Northamptonshire’s poet John Clare wrote:

And just to say that spring was come
The violet left its woodland home
And hermit like, from storms and wind
Sought the best shelter it could find
‘Neath long grass banks, with feeble powers
Peeping faintly purple flowers.

Perhaps the violet’s modesty is one of its more appealing features!

Text by George Metcalfe. Photos by Colin Wootton.