By Mary Reid Barrow
Tiny wild pansies with their even tinier pansy faces are carpeting parts of the Feeder Road median and this is the first spring I have ever noticed them.
I don’t know where these miniature beauties have been all my life. No bigger than my little fingernail, they have a sweet kitty face with yellow moustache and whiskers and five white to the palest of lavender-blue petals. The lavender whiskers adorn the lower petals.
From afar the sight of the pansies is overpowered by chickweed, vetch and other spring invaders (which overpower me too).
Up closer, I first thought I was seeing bluets, but no. Equally tiny bluets have four petals and are all pale blue with no stripes.
Both wild pansies and bluets are native to all of Virginia.
But bluets are in the Madder family and wild pansies are in the violet (Violaceae) family. Their closest relatives here are the pretty purple common violets or the white and purple confederate violets that also are blooming across the landscape.
Both wild pansies and common violets are smaller than the garden pansies we buy in the nurseries and could only be called kissing cousins to their garden relatives.
Large garden pansies and smaller Johnny jump-ups, as I was taught to call the smaller commercial pansies, are hybrids bred from wild European violets, not from our natives.
Both common violets and wild pansies are food for variegated fritillary caterpillars and some butterflies and moths nectar on the small blossoms.
I have read that our tiny wild pansies also are sometimes called Johnny jump-ups because they are nowhere to be seen and suddenly, they “jump up” at the beginning of spring.
And to my delight, that’s exactly what they did for me this spring.
Coming across native plants in bloom in spring is really a special surprise. Let me know about natives you love in in your yard or ones that strike your fancy on walks and send me a photo or two!