Mother’s Day Violets

violets-mother's dayUsually around Mother’s Day, we start to notice violets blooming at Crossroads. That always makes me think of my mother and how as a child, I picked a bouquet of violets for her every Mother’s Day. . This may not seem like a big deal, but it was. Mother loved wildflowers and she drummed it into us that we should never, ever, under any circumstance pick a wildflower. But oh, violets were OK.
Mom was right. Most wildflowers really should be enjoyed and left in the woods, but violets don’t seem to suffer from being picked. In fact, they often spread. Like many plants, violets can (and do, often vigorously) spread by underground rhizomes and above ground runners.   The pretty purple (or yellow or white, depending on the species) flowers blossom in May and are pollinated by native insects, so they make seeds.
But violets are cleistogamous! That sounds nasty, but what it actually means is that  in addition to the lovely and sweet smelling purple flowers,  violets produce little white  flowers in the summer and autumn. These budlike  flowers  never open,  They are never pollinated, and yet, are able to produce seeds. Often these inconspicuous flowers  grow under the heart-shaped leaves or in the leaf litter. Some even remain underground. But their seeds are viable and all of the young plants are clones of the parent. If the pretty flowers are picked from a plant in May, the plant just puts its energy into making seeds in the cleistogamous flowers later in the season.
They say that you can’t tame wild violets. With all the different ways they can spread, violets often invade lawns and escape in gardens.  I admit they are aggressive.  A number of gardeners expend a  frustrating amount of energy trying to kill violets (which isn’t easy.)  Curiously, many of these same people go to great lengths trying to attract butterflies.
Just as monarch butterflies required milkweed  plants as a larval host, another group of orange and black butterflies called fritillaries lay their eggs exclusively on violet leaves. People with violets in their yards probably have enjoyed these beautiful speckled creatures.  Those  who have pulled, mowed and poisoned violets  have not. No violet leaves– no fritillaries.
Even in a manicured yard, there are appropriate places for violets. They grow in shade so are make a great ground cover where grass is sparse. They are stunning in the transition zones between lawn and forest. They are lovely under shade trees.  And when Mother’s Day comes, children can pick as many as they like. They can make bouquets, they can put the blossoms  in salads. They can dip them in sugar for cake decorations, or  make violet ice cream.  Pioneers even ate the young tender  leaves in spring …. just like frittilary caterpillars.
Crossroads traditionally hold a Mother’s Day Flower Hike at 1:00, so on Sunday, bring mom or just come and we will look for flowers at Crossroads. Naturally, we protect our wildflowers, but you are welcome to pick any violets you find.
Tuesday May 12 is Earth Day for Sawyer School,  (Crossroads celebrates Earth Day at least  five times in May) But while the students are learning about habitats , Friends of Crossroads have planned an Earth Day Work Day.  All are invited to join our volunteers as we repaint the benches in the Amphitheatre and throughout the preserve. Starting at 10:00  volunteers  will be washing, sanding and prepping the benches. The paint party starts at 3:00, and unless we are under a burning ban, we will end the Earth Day Work Day with a Cookout at the Council Ring.
Crossroads is a donor-supported preserve welcoming learners of all ages to activities in science, history and the environment. The Collins Learning Center, located at 2041 Michigan in Sturgeon Bay, is open 2:00-4:30 daily and during scheduled events.
Sunday, May 10, 1:00 Mother’s Day Wildflower Hike
Join the naturalist in a one hour hike to look for spring wildflowers. Easy hiking. Bring the whole family. Free and open to the public.
Tuesday, May 12:  Friends of Crossroads Earth Day Work Day
All are welcome to join the Friends of Crossroads as they “Take Care of What We Have” Wear work clothes and meet at the Collins Learning Center for assignments.
10:00  Wash /Prepare Benches for Staining
  3:00  Paint  Benches etc.
  5:30 Cook out! Meat & buns,   marshmallows will be provided.
          Bring side to share and choice beverage

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