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Collecting Wild Violet Seeds

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I haven’t written much about it yet, but I’m planning to create a native pollinator garden in one of my flower beds starting 2023.

Planning takes time because I want to grow a lot of the flowers from seed, and most of the native flowers in my part of the US need cold stratification — or a period of time the seed is subjected to cold, wet conditions before it can germinate. (I’m in zone 7a in the Northeast / MidAtlantic region.)

Today I was weeding my garden beds and noticed the wild blue violets I’ve been nurturing have started seeding themselves.

Little violet flowers make way for seed pods that burst open to display tiny black seeds.

There’s one caveat though: you have to beat the plant’s natural dispersal system and the ants to the seeds. Luckily the ants don’t eat the seeds themselves but an outer protein-rich layer. It turns out, ants help distribute the wild blue violet seeds around your garden. If they don’t do the trick the seeds literally *POP* out of the little rows once the seed pod has dried enough. They can shoot quite far!

So getting to the seeds when the seed pods open takes perfect timing and a lot of frustration. I discovered a much easier way to collect the seeds!

What's so great about the common blue violet?

Unfortunately wild violets are seen by many as weeds and they work hard to get rid of them in their lawn and garden beds.  I cringe when I read stories online of people using RoundUp to kill the violets in their “pristine lawn.” Not only are they killing a larva host for a native pollinator, but they are killing other pollinators with the use of RoundUp. 

Wild violets are native flowers. Are they a weed? It’s a matter of perspective and I think they are much lovelier than an unnatural lawn or the dozens of other non-native (and possibly invasive) ground covers so many people use.

The leaves and flowers of the common wild violet is edible by human and makes a GREAT ground cover if you’re trying to create a more natural lawn –  minus all the chemicals and upkeep needed for a grass lawn.

But the most important thing about the common blue violet it that it’s a host plant for several species of fritillary butterflies. Similar to monarchs and milkweed, native fritillary butterflies (depending on the species) lay their eggs in shaded areas (where violets tend to grow) or look specifically for violets to lay their eggs. Like the monarch caterpillars that will only eat milkweed, fritillary caterpillars will only eat violet leaves.

Collecting the seeds and planting wild violets in your garden is one way to help protect this species of butterfly.

Collecting wild violet seeds​

Shown in the images above is the common blue violet (Viola sororia) but there are many types of wild violets native throughout the US that are host to fritillary butterflies.

The first image shows a wild blue violet with a flower, closed flower buds or seed pods, and an open (empty) seed pod.

In the second photo you can see a few unopened seed pods as well as one open (and empty) seed pod. The seeds have already dispersed in that seed pod. 

iTo collect wild violet seeds BEFORE the seed pod opens (and pops its seeds across your garden bed!) it’s best to collect the seed pods when they are still closed. 

However, you must wait for the seed pod to turn from a downward facing position to an upward facing position.  When the pods face UP, you can pinch them off and place them in a paper bag for about 24 hours.. 

If you collect the seed pods when they are facing downward, the seeds might be too immature to germinate when you plant them.

Photo 3 shows several open seed pods ready to POP or disperse its seeds. You can collect them at this point but your timing has to be perfect.

Photo 4 shows the dried and open seed pods that I stored in a paper bag for about 24 hours. If you place the bag near you on your desk, you will hear the pods popping open and dispersing the seeds inside the bag. 

At this point you can discard the dried pods and other chaff and just keep the seeds. Some of the seeds will be black and some beige/white; I collected all of them to see if it mattered when planting them.

It’s important to store your seeds in the refrigerator until you’re ready to plant them. Wild violet seeds need at least 60 days of cold stratification (exposed to cold and wet freezing conditions). So you can plant them outside in the ground once it gets cold or do like I’m going to do and attempt to grow them via winter sowing in milk jugs. More about that in a later post.

Growing native flowers in your garden​

Viola sororia is native to the eastern half of the US and most parts of California and Utah. However if you live in another part of the US or Canada, you can look at this map on the BONAP website to see which species of viola is native to your region. Most of them are host to fritillary butterflies. Some other common varieties are Viola pedata, Viola pedatifida, and Viola nuttallii.

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Hi, I'm Kerry
Hi, I'm Kerry

...of Curiously Designed. This blog documents my journey as I figure out how to finally pursue a long-held dream of being a working illustrator and designer.

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