Downy Soft Yellow Violet Wildflowers

Downy Yellow Violet photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

Violets. We pay little or no attention to them as we hike across meadows and along trails. At best, we are cautious not to step on them, of course. We take our responsibility to support our environment, most seriously.

These violets though, the Viola Pubescens featured here, are found throughout the United States, with at least 7 species of Viola commonly found east of the Mississippi river.

Pretty little things, many with edible leaves, are classified as herbs, but these Spring blooming flowers are just part of the landscape. And what a landscape! Ohiopyle State Park in Pennsylvania’s sylvan Laurel Highlands.

Or is there more to it than that? The majority of Fritillary butterflies depend on violets. They deposit their eggs on plants growing near violets. The eggs hatch their caterpillars and the Fritillary caterpillars travel to the nearby violets and move into a leaf litter. Do they feed? No. That in itself is a whole other story. When Spring comes, the caterpillars who have survived then feed on violet leaves, like these Downy Yellows.

We remember that the Monarch caterpillar and other butterflies benefit from the protection gained from eating the glycoside molecules in Asclepia leaves. Fritillary butterflies also  enjoy this protection, due to the glycosides and other molecules present in the leaves of violets! I have to admit that I have seen some very beaten up fritillary butterflies, so it may well be that fritillaries don’t enjoy the same level of toxicity as Monarchs do. Something to ponder.

Those  of our followers who have large properties, especially those with treed lots, often have grassy perimeters around the trees that are populated by violet plants. May we suggest that you do not rake up the leaf litter in those areas, until well into late Spring? Removal of the leaf litter before late Spring may well destroy dozens or hundreds of Fritillary caterpillars, who have survived 20 degree Farenheit days and nights, awaiting the last weeks in April. If your rake catches them in November, you will miss out on the butterflies.