WILD GEORGIA: Violets are blue and other colors, too

The other day, I was photographing a large clump of common blue violets on a neighbor’s lawn when she remarked that they were pretty, but “mostly weeds.”

I said I know that violets can be banes of homeowners who want neat, weedless lawns, but I regard them as some of Georgia’s most beautiful native wildflowers — reassuring signs that spring is nearly here.

Other folks obviously feel the same way. Four states — Illinois, Rhode Island, Wisconsin and New Jersey — hold the common blue violet in such high esteem that it is their official state flower.

It’s only one, however, of 28 violet species (all in the Viola genus) native to Georgia — nearly half of the some 60 wild violet species that occur in all of North America. Many of Georgia’s violets, like the common blue violet, are abundant; some are uncommon or rare.

Many of them are starting to bloom now, and all should be in full flower by April — and will continue to bloom through May and even into July. Depending on the species, the violets sport purple, lavender, yellow, blue or white flowers — and often a mix of blue and white. They all divide neatly into two main groups: stemless, those with no leaves on the flower stalk; and stemmed, those that do have leaves. The common blue is stemless.

I love them all and often find myself pausing to admire and photograph them along wooded trails, streamside, roadsides — and on neighbors’ lawns. Some of Georgia’s other well-known violets include:

— Wood violet, whose purple flowers sometimes are made into candy, jam, jelly and preserves.

— Halberd leaf violet (yellow flowers), so-named because its arrowhead leaves resemble a halberd, a type of battle ax used in the 15th and 16th centuries; occurs mostly in North Georgia.

— Canada violet (white flowers with a yellow center), which occurs mostly in North Georgia’s mountains.

— Birdfoot violet, whose large, purple flowers with prominent orange stamens make it stand out among other violets. Its leaves resemble a bird’s foot.

— Long-spurred violet (lavender flowers), so-named because of the “spur” on its lower petal.

IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The moon will be full on Friday (March 18). The only planets visible now are Venus, Mars and Saturn, low in the east just before sunrise.

Charles Seabrook can be reached at charles.seabrook@yahoo.com.