One of the flowers I was very familiar with as a child in the 60’s was what we called Piney Woods Violets. My familiarity was not so much because they were by far the largest and prettiest violet in the area, but because they were so common. The woods behind my folks’ homestead in Jasper County were dotted with them all spring, and the handfuls that my sister and I gathered routinely made no noticeable dent in the population. Back then, the pines and oaks were old enough to form a large canopy that shaded out the dense undergrowth. We could wander freely and follow the creek forever without fighting tangles of blackberry, yaupon and wax myrtle.
After graduation from high school, I spent many years in other places of Texas — mostly Beaumont and then Austin. But I found that the city never gives as much as it takes from our lives, so when I had the opportunity to head back home in 1999 and settle in what used to be my grandparents’ pasture, I jumped at the chance. One of the first things I noticed was that you couldn’t walk in the woods anymore without a machete, and the Piney Woods Violets were nowhere to be found. I hacked quite a few paths through the underbrush before I ran across a few little colonies here and there.
One day when I wasn’t looking for violets, but traveling down a route that my great grandmother used to take in her wagon to visit her folks, I stopped at an old country graveyard and a familiar sight greeted my eyes. The entire back half was dotted with the beautiful blossoms underneath several large pines. I was delighted to find that, given the right habitat, they still flourished.
After doing a little research, I discovered that the Piney Woods Violet is also known more commonly as Bird’s Foot Violet, so called because of the unique shape of their leaves that resembles a bird’s foot. Botanically known as Viola pedata, the Piney Woods Violets boast blooms that are much larger than other violets, and stand several inches tall. They don’t like rich soil or wet feet, and I’ve often seen them growing in hard, red clay.
If you ever find yourself wandering in an old growth forest in the Eastern United States in the Spring, keep your eyes open for the big, bluish-purple dots of violets. I hope it is one of the species my grand children will one day find growing wild.