// Twitter Cards // Prexisting Head The Biologist Is In: Violet Surprise

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Violet Surprise

I've been very busy lately. Between looking for a job and working on the yard, I haven't found time to write any blog posts. I've had lots of ideas, but none of them have worked their way into something I wanted to post. Stress leads to writer's block, among other consequences.

Today I was out working in the garden, pulling buckthorn and extracting the broken remains of a thin glass gazing sphere that the previous homeowner had somehow smashed into the soil. The broken glass was a pretty blue and I managed to only cut myself once.

While pulling yet another buckthorn, I noted a violet flower that appeared to be coming from a plant (at right and below) with leaves I didn't recognize. The common yard violet in this area is Viola sororia (Common Blue Violet). Its flowers are often seen in shades of blue/purple, sometimes mixed with white. For several years I've been interested in collecting the forms I've found with different colored flowers, but until recently I didn't have a permanent enough place to keep them. (The plants don't survive winter well in pots or as houseplants.) I've never heard of a version with a modified leaf form, however.

There is a closely related violet species (V. triloba) that has cut leaves, but it differs from this plant in that the species starts and ends the season with regular, uncut leaves (like in this photo). Even the youngest leaves on the plant I found have the cut shape. The pattern of the leaf shape also appears to differ from that seen in all the photos I've found of V. triloba, though this is a less certain distinction.

Another slightly less-related violet species (V. pedata, "Bird's Foot Violet") also has cut leaves. However, the pattern of cuts in the leaf shape are distinct from the plant I found and the flowers are very distinct. [This paragraph was added after a relative mentioned V. pedata as a possible ID.]

My current assessment is that this plant represents a leaf mutant in V. sororia. The presence of related species with cut leaves hints that there is a pathway to producing this phenotype hidden in their normal development, just waiting to be revealed by some mutation. Mutations happen all the time, but it can take a somewhat practiced eye to see their results as significant and worth preserving.

I'll be transplanting this little plant to a place I can better keep an eye on and protect it.