The violet is a beautiful flower that is rich with meaning and history. The flower for the month of February, the violet is the state flower of New Jersey, Rhode Island, Wisconsin and Illinois. It is also the flower of Greece, largely because it appears in Greek mythology, such as the story of Apollo constantly chasing one of his twin sister’s, Artemis, nymph friends. The nymphs are supposed to stay chaste so, to protect the nymph, Artemis changed her into a violet. Because of this, some equate the violet to modesty.
African violets are a type of violet that were discovered in the wilderness of Africa in 1892. Their botanical name is Saintpaulia, named after the Baron Walter von Saint Paul-Illare who discovered the flowers and sent some samples to his father, the president of the Dendrological Society of German, the Baron Ulrich von Saint Paul-Illare. Because the flowers were such a beautiful blue-violet color, they were named S. lonantha, which means “with violet-like flowers.” It wasn’t long before they were simply called, “African violets.”
Soon after, African violets were being grown in hothouses throughout Europe and, in 1927, California nursery Armacost & Royston imported African violet seeds from Germany and England. Because they are so easy to grow, they quickly became a popular household plant. African violets are characterized by heart-shaped leaves and are smaller plants, only growing about six inches tall. African violets are most known for their blue-purple color, but they come in many colors such as lavender, pink, cream, white and yellow. They also come bi-colored, in combinations such as blue and yellow, white and pink, and white and red.
There are several other types of violets, in addition to African violets, with the sweet violet being one of the most common. Many favor the sweet violet because of its lovely scent, which is the strongest of most of the violets. Several types of violets are used to scent perfumes and other fragrance products, and the viola odorata is the most commonly used. In fact, violet perfume was the favorite of Josephine Bonaparte, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. When Napoleon returned to Elba, after being banished and after Josephine had died, he put a bouquet of violets on her grave. After he died, a lock of Josephine’s hair and violet petals were found in his locket.
Violet flowers also have many culinary uses. Viola flower essence is used to flavor desserts, while the flower petals themselves have been used to decorate cakes and salads. Violet flower petals are often candied with coatings of egg white and sugar, and are very popular in France, where they are made commercially in Toulouse and called “violettes de Toulouse.”
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African violet plants are a wonderful gift to send to friends. They are excellent as a housewarming gift for someone who has just moved. They are also lovely as a cheerful “get well” sentiment, and a sweet way to wish someone a happy birthday. Because they come as plants, the recipient can either replant them in their garden, or keep them in pots as house plants. Care should be taken because certain types of violets, such as wild violets, are considered weeds by some, and can be somewhat invasive. In fact, they are not susceptible to many of the herbicides used to kill many lawn weeds. But the proper violets in the right area can be lovely covering, that will keep the recipient’s yard alive with beautiful colors and lovely fragrances. Because of this, they are also an excellent gift for someone who has just begun gardening and needs a plant that is an easy beginner’s plant. Either way, a recipient of this pretty, cheerful plant will be receiving a gift that is rich with history.