Early Dog Violet

Every year, I struggle to get to grips with the different violets and then, just as I start to, they’re done for another year and by the time spring comes round again, I’ve forgotten! There is some specific terminology for these flower which adds to the complexity and they are certainly in need of a hand-lens to tell apart.

I saw my first violets of the year on the walk into work this morning so I took one into captivity and keyed it out in the office. This one is early dog violet – Viola reichenbachiana. It typically flowers in March, but in this unseasonably warm spring, it is unsurprising to find it out in February.

The photos below will hopefully illustrate some of the ID tips for this species and hopefully help me to fix them better in my head if nothing else!

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This shows the violet in situ – it was growing on a sunny bank alongside Grantham College in the town. The structure of the plant is leafy flowering shoots around a slight basal rosette of leaves. This gives the plant a slightly sprawling appearance, rather than being a single, neat, compact entity. Importantly, the leaf stems are hairless.

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This shows the flower a little more clearly. The ‘spur’ of the flower is the nobble which extends out of the back of the flower – in early dog violet it is straight and pointed. You can see that it is darker than the rest of the petals – this is one of the characteristics of early dog violet compared with standard dog violet where the spur is lighter. You can also see the way that the top two petals are held back, ‘like rabbit’s ears’ as Rose states.

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The petals are blue-violet, although this can be variable. The purple veins in the lower petal – those which run through the white section – are un-branched or very little branched. The top two petals are also narrower than the equivalent two top petals in standard dog violet.

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This shows a direct view of the back of the ‘spur’ which was visible previously. In standard dog violet, this spur is notched but in the early dog violet, the spur is un-notched. The ‘notch’ is a linear indentation a little like the slot of an arrow where it fits into the string of the bow – imagine the end of the spur as the end of an arrow (not the sharp end!) and you will have the right kind of image!

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