Revisiting Virginia’s Violets

We are very fortunate to have Dr. Harvey Ballard of Ohio University beginning a multi-year study of the violets of our region. Dr. Ballard is a veteran violet expert, having studied these enigmatic plants for most of his career. Using Mountain Lake Biological Station as a home base, Dr. Ballard is scoping out various violet “hotspots” and homing in on several specific projects for initial study.
Dr. Ballard is interested in all species of Viola, and initial reconnaissance has been exciting. The first trip identified Viola nephrophylla on the grounds of Mountain Lake Biological Station. Subsequent searching in fens at several locations in Southwest Virginia turned up similar looking plants, but only in sterile condition. Revisits in Spring 2014 to observe chasmogamous flowers will be needed to determine if we have a new native violet for Virginia.
A second area of study will focus on the disjunct shale barren populations of Viola pedatifida, at present known only from Alleghany and Bath counties, Virginia. Preliminary observation indicate that it differs in several subtle but potentially important ways from populations in the Midwest which Dr. Ballard has studies intensively in the past.

Viola pedatifida, chasmogamous flowers © Irv T. Wilson

Summer foliage, cleistogamous phase © Tom Wieboldt

Summer foliage, cleistogamous phase
© Tom Wieboldt

Anyone from this region who has looked at woodland blue violets has undoubtedly puzzled over the Viola palmata complex (brittoniana, palmata, subsinuata, and triloba). After seeing these in the field here in the Southern Appalachians, Dr. Ballard agrees that a coherent understanding is still lacking. What seems to hold elsewhere (especially the Northeast), is not so clearcut here. We can all look forward results of his morphometric, molecular, and population studies ever the next few years!