Bird's Foot Violet

As a life long denizen of deciduous forests, prairies and savannas present an entirely new set of stimuli. A recent excursion into an expansive oak savanna found me overwhelmed by the beauty of such places. Being mid October, the color pallet of the landscape ranged from myriad shades of reds, browns, yellows, and oranges. I was walking through a particularly sandy patch of soil when something caught my eye. A little flash of lavender shone through the amber grasses. To my astonishment I had found a plant that has managed to elude me for many years. 

What I had found was a bird's-foot violet (Viola pedata). Its deeply divided leaves, which faintly resemble a bird's foot, are unmistakable. What was even more fantastic was that this particular plant was in full bloom. I looked around and found only a small handful of other plants. This one was the only one in bloom. Though not unheard of for this time of year, I couldn't help but revel in the serendipity of the moment. 

Like all members of the genus Viola, bird's-foot violet is a photoperiodic plant. By this I mean that all aspects of its growth are sensitive to the relative amount of sunlight in any given day. Violets are generally spring time plants, however, the shortening days and cooler temperatures of fall aren't that different from spring. As such, this lovely little plant was perhaps a bit confused by the cool October weather. I didn't see any pollinators out and about but that doesn't mean that a hardy bumblebee wouldn't be lucky to stumble into its blooms. 

Back in my home state of New York, this particular species of violet is truly a rare find. The kind of habitats which it frequents have been largely destroyed. It is a xeric species that doesn't appreciate water hanging around for very long. Finding it growing in mostly sand was not surprising to say the least. Like most other violets, its seeds come complete with their own fleshy protuberance called an elaiosome. The purpose of these fatty attachments are to attract foraging ants in the genus Aphenogaster. The ants find the elaiosomes to their liking and take them back to their nest. Once the elaiosome is eaten, the seed is discarded into a refuse chamber inside the nest. There it finds a favorable microsite for germination full of nutrient-rich ant compost.

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