The year I got my Canon Rebel XT, I also got several days of vacation in September. I decided I would teach myself to identify all the goldenrods and asters that grow in our region. Ha ha ha… It was a ridiculous goal. In my Newcomb’s guide alone there are 34 species of goldenrod and 43 of aster… I never even got close.
According to botanist Thomas Elpel, there are over 100 species of goldenrod worldwide, over 90 of which can be found in North America. For asters, the numbers are 500 and 150.
Numbers like these speak to the success of the reproductive and adaptive strategies of these genera… producing huge numbers of seeds, and also regenerating year after year from continuously spreading root stock. Clever little plants…
For a Ridiculous Springtime Challenge check out the violets – another long list of species under a single genus. Violaceae – The Violet Family – boasts sixteen genera and 850 species worldwide. In my Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide (northeastern and north-central North America), 31 species are listed and there are 39 in my Peterson guide for the same region.
Generally speaking, violets have 5 petals that are not all shaped the same. Think of them as a top pair, a side (lateral) pair, and the larger, single bottom petal. Leaves are most often basal, but on some species they alternate.
While most species are some shade of the color of their namesake, you will find other colors. It seems the earliest ones I find in spring are yellow:
Shortly after the snow melts, the little, yellow dots of Round-leaved Violet (Viola rotundifolia) push their way up through the leaf litter along with tiny leaves. Together, the blooms and leaves expand in size until by summer the leaves might be 2-4 inches long.
The Northern White Violet (Viola pallens) has streaks of purple on its lower petal.
There is another lovely white violet that won’t bloom until later in May. The plants get quite a bit taller and the flower petals are a little more “regularly” shaped.
The Canada Violet (Viola canadensis) flower is interesting because it is white on the front, but violet on the back. It is also distinctive because whereas many of the violet species have flowers each on a stalk that comes up from the ground, this plant is more bush-like – with flowers on branching stalks from a main stem.
When a flower has a unique feature, and is named for that unique feature, it is easy to remember the name. Such is the case with the Long-spurred Violet (Viola rostrata). I first found these along a creek in a very moist, rich woods and found them to be just delightful, both for their shape and for their delicate light-purple color.
When it comes to the purple ones, i fear I have not been attentive enough to identify to the species level… I have not paid attention to the shape of the leaves and whether they are smooth or fuzzy… I have not paid attention to whether the veined markings are on all petals, or just the lower, or lower and lateral… I have not paid attention to which of the petals are bearded and which are not… So much to notice.
As you know, there is always something new to learn… This year, I learned that violets form a 3-valved exploding capsule of seeds! When I did an image search for such a thing, I found that one of my Flickr friends had one:
I think I’ll keep my eyes open for such a thing this year!
All violets are edible. You can throw the blooms right on your salad or dry them to make tea. They are reported to be high in vitamins C and A, and as a medicinal tea to work well as a laxative or expectorant.
The domesticated plants “Johnny Jump Up” and pansies are in the same family as the wild violets.