The Common dog-violet – Viola riviniana – flowers in spring, from April to June.
(The ‘dog’ part of the name refers to its lack of scent and separates it from the scented ‘sweet’ violet.)
It is shade-tolerant and does not like direct sunlight.
You are most likely to find violets in shady areas, especially woodland, but if you do find it on a slope in an open area, it is very likely to be north-facing.
Like many shade-loving plants, they prefer moist soils, neither dry nor waterlogged.
Grazing animals avoid violets, so they can survive in grasslands where many other wildflowers have been nibbled by deer, sheep, horses or cattle.
Violets have evolved a cunning way of spreading their seeds. The seeds have tasty and nutritious appendages (called elaiosomes).
Ants seek out these tempting seed packages, carry them away from the plant and feed the elaiosomes to other ants in the nest. The unharmed seed is then discarded nearby as waste.
The Early dog-violet – Viola reichenbachiana – is very similar to the Common, but is also an AWI – Ancient Woodland Indicator.
The way to tell the two apart is to look behind the flower and find the ‘spur’. – a protuberance that points backwards. Early dog-violet has a spur that is darker than the petals. Common dog-violet has a spur that is paler than the petals. The flower below is an Early dog-violet that I found in a patch of ancient woodland in Sussex.
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