Not a Weed: Violets

Not a Weed: Violets

Welcome to the “Not a Weed” series. Each month will feature a common weed and its benefits and uses. After reading these articles, I hope you will agree it’s “Not a Weed!”

Many a homeowner brands the humble violet a weed. Violets seem to pop up wherever the lawn is suffering, invade carefully planted groundcover, and spread with a cheerful enthusiasm that leaves gardeners grumpy. Then early spring rolls around and a sea of delicate purple, blue, white and yellow petals emerge throughout the lawn. Perhaps it’s time to rethink whether members of the viola family are unwanted in the garden.

In addition to being edible to humans, violets are the host plant of fritillaries, those dusky orange butterflies with speckles on their wings. Many species also have recognizable silver spots on the underside of the wings. Fritillary caterpillars must have violets to survive, while the adult butterflies happily feed on other nectar-rich flowers nearby.

This great spangled fritillary happily feeds on lantana, but its larvae must feed on violets to survive.

Still don’t want violets in your lawn? Because the caterpillars overwinter before feeding the next year, they might be safer in a designated area of the garden that will not be mowed. Dig the plants up before blooming season and move them to another spot where they can bloom en masse. If you’re still not feeling the love, try sprinkling a few flowers and heart-shaped leaves in your salad and you just might come around.

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