The Barking Violet…

When visiting Wisconsin in search of Walleyed Pike, a fearsome looking fish, I stumbled across mats of Dog Violet – the state wildflower of Wisconsin. It was everywhere! The Bluish-Purple blooms kept telling me I would never catch a fish so I gave in and took a closer look at this small native plant that kept hounding me about being fishless.

Despite what the violets were barking, I did catch a Walleye!

Where did the Dog Violet get its name? Despite searching for hours, I wasn’t able to locate anything definitive on the source of the name. In fact, the Dog Violet seemed to have four scientific names so others were just as confused as I was. To top it all off, the Wisconsin state website said the Wood Violet (Viola sororia) was the state wildflower. Obviously, confusion reigns! I think I will go back to Walleye fishing.

Another website source said the Wood Violet was also called the Dog Violet and its Latin name was Viola riviniana. Wikipedia lists 600 species of violet worldwide and to make matters worse, when an amateur, such as I am, starts comparing photos, they all look alike except some are blue, purple, white, yellow, and even burgundy. The violet (whatever species) has five petals which includes an insect landing strip – the lower one – and four standards or flags. There is a difference in leaf form as the ones we are most familiar with have heart shaped leaves but some are round, some lobed, some small, few large, and, fortunately, all green. Sometimes the flower stalks come from leaf axils and occasionally sprout directly from the ground. A group are scented and a group are scentless. A few have fibrous roots but some have tap roots. These subtle differences are what make up the 600 rich members of Viola.

Lets go back to Wisconsin and look at the official Wood Violet, Dog Violet, or Common Blue Violet. By the way, another website says the Wisconsin state flower is Viola papilionacea. That makes at least three species claiming the Wisconsin crown. We can look at all three and see if there is any visual difference.

The V. sororia Wood Violet with bluish-purple flowers, slightly scalloped heart shaped leaves and stems apparently coming from the ground.
V. riviniana with purple blossoms and leaves very similar to the one above it.
V. papilionacea but the leaves are the same as the other two, the color is similar, and here the stems appear to be coming from the ground.

Now, your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to tell me the difference between these three. To me they seem to be just Violets – pretty in their simplicity and lost in their naming. To me and to most of you, I am sure, they will remain violets which we will pull from our yards and value in our woods unless you are from Wisconsin and they are beautiful everywhere.

I think I will go back to fishing where a Walleye is a Walleye, unless you are from Europe where it is called Zander.

A dandy Zander.

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