Sweet violet Viola odorata

Status Non-native, invasive
Best Time to See
Colour
Habitat Woodland

A low, creeping plant with fragrant flowers, usually blue-violet or white.

The sweet violet has a long and rather romantic history in European and Asian folklore: the ancient Greeks first used it to make perfume and the Romans to make wine. Ancient Britons used it for cosmetics. Medieval French troubadours used it to represent constancy in their tales of chivalrous love.

Sweet violet's leaves are broad and glossy and like the stems are covered with fine hairs. Both flowers and leaves grow from a central tuft.

Distribution

Widespread throughout most of England. Patchy distributions in north-west England and Wales.

Habitats

The sweet violet prefers to grow upon of woodland margins and shady hedgebanks.

Best time to see

When it flowers from March to May.

Status

Sweet violet is a native plant, but many of its populations in northern and western Britain are considered to be non-native. It is a common species and its distribution appears to be stable.

Key threats

Loss of the habitat, particularly destruction of hedgerows.

Did you know?

Furthering this wildflower's romantic reputation, Josephine threw Napolean a posy of sweet violets when they first met. After he was defeated at Waterloo he was permitted to visit her grave one last time before he was sent to St Helena. He found sweet violets growing there and picked a few. Upon his death these were found in a locket around his neck.

There is a legend that you can only smell violet flowers once - this is untrue, but has its basis in a quirk of evolution. Ionine, one of the chemicals that makes up the sweet violet’s scent, has the power to deaden the smell receptors once its been sniffed.