I am an amateur naturalist attempting to find out something about everything in my garden.
Spreading their way along the front flower-border of my garden are numerous little Heartsease pansies (Viola tricolor). Photo 1 (click to enlarge) shows a solitary plant flowering in early April and photo 2, taken more recently, a patch of its joyously sprawling compatriots enjoying Oxfordshire's recent combination of warm, wet weather. As was the case for the California poppies I wrote about recently, I am in no doubt about the identify of these plants since it was me that grew the first of them from a packet of seed some few years ago.
A tough little creeping perennial, Heartsease is the wild ancestor of the myriad cultivated pansies you can find in your local garden centre. As I learnt from reading the site of the American violet society, amongst the first persons to take a horticultural interest in Heartsease was the British Admiral Lord Gambier (1756-1833) who, when he wasn't battling the Napoleonic fleet, was busy with his gardener William Thompson, breeding the first hybrid pansies. I have to say that I prefer the original, but each to their own!
From my copy of The Englishman's Flora (Geoffrey Grigson, publ. Paladin) I learn that there are dozens of alternative names for my pansy, including the poetic Love-In-Idleness the name used by Oberon in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (Act II, scene 1) when he describes the power the flower has as a love potion:
And maidens call it love-in-idleness
Fetch me that flower; the herb I shew'd thee once;
The juice of it on sleeping eyelids laid
Will make or man or woman madly dote
Upon the next live creature that it sees.
Can anyone out there tell me if this works?!
A name that doesn't get a mention in the book above is 'Johnny Jump Up', the name used in the U.S. I understand.
V. Tricolor is a member of the (approximately four-hundred strong) Viola genus of flowers. The rather asymmetrical (the technical term being zygomorphic) arrangement of the five petals is believed to make it an example of a highly evolved flower. The streaks on the lower petals are supposedly there to act as nectar guides for pollinating insects, these being (in the Netherlands at least, according to a scientific paper I came across by Veerman and Zon, 1964) mainly bumblebees and the Silver 'Y' Moth (Plusia gamma).
There are some excellent sites (this one for example) on the internet describing the botanical details of flower structure. The name and purpose of one structure has eluded my (decidedly non-expert) attempts to identify it however, namely the two white 'lips' that can be seen in the centre of the flower in photo 1 (click to enlarge). Under magnification (photo 3, 40x) these remind me of white-tentacled sea-anemones. No doubt an embarrassing display of botanical ignorance, but can anyone tell the name and purpose of these curious structures?