Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Unexpected Missouri violets

with 32 comments

For whatever reason, I practically never come across Missouri violets (Viola missouriensis). The only time I showed a picture of one here was in 2016. Imagine my surprise, then, on April 1st when I discovered two little clumps of Missouri violets that had sprung up between bricks in a walkway behind our house. We’ve called this place home for almost 18 years, and these were the first Missouri violets I’d ever seen in our yard. To give you a sense of scale, let me add that a Missouri violet flower is at most 3/4 of an inch across.


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© 2022 Steven Schwartzman





Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 15, 2022 at 4:36 AM

32 Responses

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  1. These seem to be more common in wooded areas; at least, the photos I’ve seen posted of them this year have come from such places. I’ve seen only two in all my roaming: one on a path at Armand Bayou years ago, and one this year at Walden West. Neither of those sightings involved a clump; only single flowers had emerged. Lucky you!


    April 15, 2022 at 7:04 AM

    • Aye, lucky indeed. The first Missouri violet I ever encountered was in a creek bed in Great Hills Park just half a mile from home, evidence that the species also calls this area home. And as confirmation of what you said, both of these neighborhood finds were in wooded and therefore at least partly shaded areas. I hope your Walden West find lent itself to some pictures. With such small and low flowers, portraits can be hard to come by. I was down on the ground with my ring flash.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 15, 2022 at 7:41 AM

  2. You succeeded again in portraying a wildflower whose beauty is enhanced by its dark background. The Missouri violet has been unknown to me until today. Great shot, Steve!

    Peter Klopp

    April 15, 2022 at 9:07 AM

  3. Interesting link you have provided, it has a video about Paulo Freire. Teologia da libertação. I had him give a talk at my university when I was in college. A professor and I drove my red “Fusca” (beetle Volkswagen) to pick him up, drop him back off when he was finished. Very well attended talk, I myself had to listen from the corridor. Anyway, I’ll check out the link a little more, but I thought I had an interesting story.

    Alessandra Chaves

    April 15, 2022 at 8:10 PM

    • I’d noticed that article about Paulo Freire but hadn’t read it. Who’d have guessed that you gave him a ride in your car? From some of the things I’ve read, Freire’s ideas have had a pernicious effect on American education. Without doing research on that, though, I can’t say more. Do you have an opinion about Freire’s ideas?

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 15, 2022 at 9:21 PM

      • Teologia da Libertação was actively discussed in Brazil during my college years, particularly in view of Leonardo Boff’s books and talks, which culminated with Boff being expelled from the Catholic church in the mid-1980s. What I gather as a central theme in Freire is the idea that man is meant to transcend his own nature, but that the interplay between the oppressed and the oppressor in society keeps them both enslaved. And this ties with the idea that the aim of education should be to help liberate both. “The oppressed need to liberate themselves and in this process also help liberate the oppressors”, or something like that. Most of my understanding of the Teologia comes from reading Leonardo Boff. Boff was a priest, and he clashed with the Catholic church because the church perceives itself as a spiritual guide to help man bear its suffering on earth and become free in heaven, whereas Boff sees the church as a possible vehicle to help man in the process of liberation and transcendence, on earth, through education, particularly education in history. Keep in mind that I am just a biology major, and even though I spent many years in an environment where these things were discussed, I haven’t dived into the books (they are very hard to read) or tried to understand their ideas in depth. One thing Boff wrote, and which we all should keep in mind, is that “the eye can see everything but itself”. I try not to embrace ANY ideology, because each ideology becomes an eye through which we see everything ELSE, while losing the ability to evaluate the ideology itself.

        Alessandra Chaves

        April 15, 2022 at 10:42 PM

        • I appreciate your explanation and your determination “not to embrace ANY ideology, because each ideology becomes an eye through which we see everything ELSE, while losing the ability to evaluate the ideology itself.” While some ideologies resonate with me and others don’t, I follow your approach of not fully adopting any particular one. “The idea that man is meant to transcend his own nature” strikes me as an impossibility, at least on the short time scale that followers of that belief intend. Evolution works over eons, not a decade or two. The name Leonardo Boff is new to me. I wonder if he applied his notion that “the eye can see everything but itself” to himself.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 16, 2022 at 7:00 AM

          • Let’s however keep in mind the types of poverty and oppression one would witness in the remote areas of Brazil, and the suffering one would be asked to help mitigate as a Catholic priest working in those areas. It’s easier to patiently wait for your next meal if you are not hungry.

            Alessandra Chaves

            April 16, 2022 at 12:07 PM

            • True enough: I hadn’t considered remote areas and desperate circumstances. I was thinking about what happened when Freire’s ideas came to the United States.

              Steve Schwartzman

              April 16, 2022 at 3:30 PM

  4. Glad to hear you have spotted the Viola missouriensis again! I have identified four species of Viola on my farm (in Missouri) including V. missouriensis which there are only a few colonies of. There are A LOT of V. sororia (Common Blue Violet). This year I have noticed A LOT more V. rafinesquei/V. bicolor than before. The Viola pubescens (Downey Yellow Violet) are actually across the fence, but the property was once part of this farm. They are very interesting… Thanks for sharing!

    The Belmont Rooster

    April 15, 2022 at 11:21 PM

    • I’ll confess that I’ve labeled the violets in my yard Viola missouriensis by default. In so doing, I followed this observation from local botanist Bill Carr: “The taxonomy of stemless blue violets poses a quagmire into which no end of hardy individuals seems willing to leap; the identity of any one specimen can be the topic of seemingly endless debate. One sheet from Travis County, B. C. Tharp 847 (TEX-LL), was originally determined Viola langloisii and over the years has been annotated to Viola cucullata, Viola missouriensis, and Viola sororia var. sororia. It is difficult to imagine that more than one stemless blue violet taxon actually occurs within Travis County, and if that is the case Viola missouriensis is its most convenient moniker.”

      From what you say, your property is more Viola-diverse, with clearer distinctions among the species.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 16, 2022 at 7:10 AM

      • Viola missouriensis “normally” grows in a certain area (which is now covered in chickweed). The neighbor across the street, has a good sized colony next to his garage that I have been wanting to get photos of. Viola sororia is definitely not picky, but not always the same shade which could throw identification off. There are white Violas in the church yard which could even be Viola sororia. GEEZ! Today, I went to a man’s home and spotted a Viola tricolor. One single plant in his yard with one single flower. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera. The Missouri Plants website lists 13 species of Viola in Missouri…

        The Belmont Rooster

        April 17, 2022 at 12:24 AM

        • Yikes: from what you say, Missouri is ground zero for violets—and grounds for getting confused for me. I guess it’s not surprising that one species should be called the Missouri violet.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 17, 2022 at 6:53 AM

          • It can get confusing sometimes for sure. Having only four species of Viola wasn’t so bad. There are other species I have been working on and I am still not sure. Ranunculus ssp. drive me insane but I think I may have the Symphyotrichum ssp. figured out after eight years.

            The Belmont Rooster

            April 17, 2022 at 1:42 PM

            • Then you’re way ahead of me with buttercups and asters. I’m happy enough to get good pictures even if I can’t always distinguish the species.

              Steve Schwartzman

              April 17, 2022 at 3:58 PM

              • Once I joined iNaturalist and use the drag and drop feature, it made a HUGE difference. Not always because the suggested species are right, but because there are people (usually curators) you can contact that are experts. One curator put me in tough with another that helped with two species of Symphyotrichum I hadn’t seen before on the farm. Forget Ranunculus. LOL!!! Well, I guess I shouldn’t give up, huh?

                The Belmont Rooster

                April 17, 2022 at 9:45 PM

                • Based on the success you’ve had so far, it seems like a good idea for you to continue.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  April 17, 2022 at 9:51 PM

  5. What a delightful find.


    April 16, 2022 at 1:15 AM

    • Yes, it was. I pointed it out to a guy who was here to do some work on the roof, and he put a few bricks around the violets so that the workers would be less likely to step on the little flowers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 16, 2022 at 7:12 AM

  6. How lovely that the violets claimed a homesite near your home! The violets were always some of my favorite flowers – so lovely in the cool shade, and I often enjoyed painting little watercolor studies of them – or I’d tuck a few into a nosegay for the kitchen window- or a bookshelf – always adding a sweet touch to the room. I’ve seen violets near an archaeological site called Tulipe near the equator – such a surprise.

    • Nosegay: now there’s a word you don’t often come across these days. Have you shown any watercolors of violets on your website that you could point us to?

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 16, 2022 at 7:17 AM

      • Those studies pre-dated my time in Latin America. I loved painting botanicals, and at that time my eyes were really sharp, so I could sit in front of the subject and paint from life – direct with watercolor with zero prep — and it was a joy. A neighbor worked in the field of Impressionistic Art from the 1800’s, and he once looked over my shoulder and quietly stated, ‘It’s so scientific.’

        • I take it that “so scientific” was meant to contrast with the Impressionists’ approach.
          I remember those sharp-eyed years, too.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 16, 2022 at 10:04 PM

  7. Nice that you happened upon this old friend. It’s a pretty little violet. Waiting for ours to show up in the yard here.

    Steve Gingold

    April 16, 2022 at 4:30 AM

    • I’ve so seldom seen wild violets in Austin that I can’t claim them as old friends, but I take your point. The violets in your yard must be more regular inhabitants, given that you expect them to show up.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 16, 2022 at 7:19 AM

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