Critter of the Week: Installment 2

Written by Joe Cicchetto


Roses are red, violets are blue,

except if they’re yellow or green or white…

If this plant can’t find love, it won’t stew

it’ll make its own seeds by itself tonight!


Viola lanceolata, called Bog white violet or lance-leaved violet, is one of two species of white violets found on or near campus, and it is blooming now.  This species is found in wet places.  On our campus, it is found only in a strange wetland called the Carolina Bay.  Carolina Bays (named for the bay trees that grow in some of them) are clay-lined oval-shaped depressions in the ground that fill with rainwater for at least part of each year.  They are rare habitats, because many have been developed, drained, cut, or destroyed through other human activities like herbicides or mudding.  Our Carolina Bay has many amazing critters in it, including some rare plants found in only a few places in the state.  This violet is not rare, but it does have some interesting habits.  For one thing, it makes two kinds of flowers—one that blooms out in the open (shown in the photos below), and another that has no petals and blooms close to the ground.  Why would a plant do that?  It turns out, it’s for insurance.  Pollinators are often unreliable, so if pollinators are not around, any way that ensures seed production is beneficial to the plants.  The regular flowers even have purple stripes called “nectar guides”, guiding pollinators to the place with the nectar reward (and the pollen), but even that does not guarantee pollinators will visit.  So the tiny green flowers at the base of the plants fertilize themselves and then make seeds—no need for pesky bees or other plants.  Who needs them?  I guess you could say this violet is good at social distancing?