Thursday, September 8, 2011

Arrowhead Violet

Viola betonicifolia
The arrowhead violets are flowering beautifully this week, all ready for Toowoomba's Carnival of Flowers.
The species grows naturally in forests and woodlands, preferring its soil to be a little damp. Its water requirements are not heavy, though. This year-old plant has had no watering since it was planted a year ago. It would be appreciating the mulch which keeps the soil moisture fairly constant.
For a brief period in the 1990s, this perennial native violet species was adopted as the floral symbol of Toowoomba, ousting the better-known “Toowoomba violet” (which is an introduced plant, a large-flowered variant of the European sweet violet Viola odorata).
While my head would prefer to see native plants rather than exotic ones adopted as symbols of cities, my heart is with the introduced plants in this case. Bunches of them were sold by mothers of soldiers lost in the first world war. The money so raised was used to build our iconic “Mothers’ Memorial”. It would be a pity to lose this bit of our heritage.

The spear-leafed violet is native to Toowoomba and along the range. Its deep purple flowers resemble those of the introduced violet, but are slightly redder in hue.

I can understand the wish to use it as our city’s symbol. It was once very common here, and hosted the Australian Fritillary butterfly, a species which is now listed as critically endangered, but may actually be extinct, for lack of the plants on which to rear its babies.
The plant flowers generously in spring. At other times of the year it has the botanically interesting habit producing seeds from small self-pollinating flowers which never open. This has given it an undeserved reputation for “not flowering well” - as the buds seem to come to nothing. It actually flowers beautifully, but only does it in spring.


Tom said...

Hi Trish - this post made me sad - to think we have lost a beautiful butterfly without realising it when it could have been easily helped. This plant is readily available and it just needed publicity like that for the Richmond Birdwing butterfly. After reading this post I researched further and it looks like it is indeed extinct. Indigiscapes here sell this plant and I have some, and will put more in now, but it is too late.

Patricia Gardner said...

Hi again, Tom.
Yes, it is sad. Even sadder is the knowledge that there are other plants and animals that we are probably losing without being aware that it's happening. The most insidious are the long-lived plants which can seem to be plentiful, so we might fail to notice that they are not producing babies. There is so much about the survival needs of wildlife that we humans just don't know.
Planting things in gardens must help, but we badly need to preserve areas of native growth, where these unknown conditions for reproduction and survival can continue to operate.