Glossary of Flowers: V


Disraeli rated the value of candour above all other qualities, “Candour is the brightest gem of criticism”. The flower symbolising candour is the white violet. In terms of love, the white violet is emblematic of an adventurous spirit. This white flower, known as Viola Alba, has other coloured varieties. In fact, violet is the common name for some members of the Violaceae, a family of chiefly perennial herbs.

The perfumed flower heads range from deep purple to yellow or white, and are popular as ornamentals. Garden violets, often labelled as violas, are generally hybrids and may be purple, blue, rose, yellow, white, or combinations of these, sometimes with double flowers. It became the flower of Athens. The followers of Napoleon, who promised to return from Elba with violets in the spring, used the blossom as their insignia.The flavours of various species, particularly the sweet violet, have been used for perfume, dye, and medicine. The flowers are generally deep purple, giving their name to the colour that is called after them, but lilac, pale rose-coloured or white variations are also frequent. The sweet violet (Viola odorata) represents modesty. The flowers are full of honey and are created perfectly for bee visitors.

There is indeed a remarkable botanical curiosity in the structure of the Violet: it produces flowers both in the spring and in autumn. Violet is the diminutive form of the Latin Viola, the Latin form of the Greek name Ione. There is a fable that when Jupiter changed his beloved Io into a white heifer for fear of Juno’s envy and he created these modest flowers to spring forth from the earth to be apt food for her christening them after her. Another derivation of the word Violet is said to be from Vias, which means wayside.Another variety, the Dog Violet differs principally from the Sweet Violet in its long straggling stems and paler blue flowers. The popular name of this plant is a reproach for its want of perfume. Notwithstanding its name however, a gift of blue violets is a pledge to be always true in love.

Interestingly, Pliny states that a garland of violets worn about the head will dispel the fumes of wine and prevent headache and dizziness. The ancient Britons used the flowers as a cosmetic, and in a Celtic poem it is said that violets steeped in goats’ milk are thought to increase female beauty.