Any flower lover who has seen Viola pedata (birdsfoot violet), adding its touches of rich embroidery to the raw subsoil of highway cuts in the Ozarks is tempted to try it in his own garden.
Many have tried it, some have succeeded, others have failed, but it is well worth the effort.
The delicately fragrant, pansy-like flowers of this aristocrat of the Viola plant family are varied, but all appealing.
There are three definite types. Viola pedata is the bi-color form.
The two upper petals are a deep violet color with a velvety texture. The color is so dark that it is sometimes described as purple. The three lower petals have been described variously as blue, lilac, and purple-lilac. The color is quite variable and a bit illusive.
There is also a white form, Viola pedata alba, and a form in which all the petals are light blue or lilac, Viola pedata lineariloba.
The latter is more common in Missouri though the white form has been reported. Some eastern writers describe only the bi-color form which suggests that it predominates in some areas.
The pale blue or lilac form is quite variable in its coloring in the Midwest. On some plants the blossoms are of such a delicate blue that may describe the color as an off shade of white.
In others the blue is more intense, and in some the color is lilac. We are told by reliable observers that occasionally a color between pink and lavender is found in the Missouri Ozarks.
All have orange centers that add to their attractiveness.
The leaves, unlike other violet plants, are divided somewhat similar to the foliage of the larkspur only much more refined.
The flowers overlap the leaves so that frequently we are conscious only of the delicate beauty of the blossoms themselves and completely overlook the foliage.
In some specimens the petals are more rounded giving a pansy-like appearance to the flower. In others the petals are elongated making the blossoms appear more informal.
Its resemblance to a pansy has led to the frequently used common name of wild pansy. However, it is a true violet and not a pansy at all.
The birdsfoot violet has a wide distribution over the eastern half of the country. It is reported growing in areas bounded by a line from Massachusetts to Minnesota south to Louisiana and Florida. Wild flower publications from Missouri, Illinois, and Kansas list it as native.
Over a century ago in a volume titled Popular Flowers E. S. Rand, Jr., stated, “We grow it plentifully in the garden, where it comes up year after year, and increases. The only care is to transplant it, when in bloom, with a ball of earth; of hundreds moved in this way, we have never lost a plant.”
One grower friend of mine had garden clumps of as fine a birdsfoot violets as I have ever seen growing where in May these dainty blue flowers may be counted by the thousands.
He prepared his soil by first taking off the top three or four inches, then digging out the next six or eight inches, and finally putting the top soil in the bottom of the trench and the lower soil on top.
In the process he added some sand and gravel. Also he raised the level of the bed three or four inches above the surrounding soil. His garden has a gentle but distinct slope.
That makes growing the birdsfoot viola plant pretty easy!