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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Apr 15


Posted on April 15, 2016 at 9:02 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

Hardy plants are now disclosing their ability to survive years of drought followed by a wetter winter and spring this year. A walk around the garden or neighborhood may surprise the most advanced gardener to learn which plants can survive harsh conditions.

violetsI had a revelation of this kind this past week while visiting my daughter Lynette and her family in Petaluma. As I walked through her yard I first noticed a familiar fragrance wafting from the corner of the garden. It didn’t take long to find sweet violets in full bloom under the large rose bush. I was impressed with the amount of ground these little plants covered and how well they appeared to have endured the drought. It was then that I learned these little jewels of perfume completely disappeared during the long years, months, and days of drought. My daughter thought for sure the violets were gone for good and was pleasantly surprised when they reappeared this year during the wet winter months.

Violets have always been a favorite of Lynette’s, and needless to say she was sorely disappointed to see the consequences of the lack of water over the past several years. She wasn’t surprised by the violets' disappearance since the thin leaves resemble high-water-use plants. But unlike high-water-use plants, violets have underground rhizomes (instead of tender root systems) that can serve as life support during times of duress.

Violets have the ability to survive not only a drought but freezing weather. I discovered this after moving to Lassen County as this delicate beauty poked its classic heart-shape leaves up through the spring snowfall and promptly produced showy pinkish-lavender flowers. I could not figure out how this plant came into existence on our ranch until I found it surprisingly is classified as a California native!

The other amazing bit of news is this plant is listed as an herb and has a multitude of healing properties. In the culinary world, the flowers are used in salads. My son-in-law Jeff also informed me that the flowers can be made into a delicately flavored, dark purple liqueur.

While doing research on this plant, I learned some butterflies thrive on the honey-like nectar of the violet flowers. This bit of information made me laugh, as I knew butterflies are not the only creatures with a taste for violets. I recalled how Lynette’s lop-eared rabbit devoured every single flower of the patch of violets growing alongside of our house the day she came home for spring break from Cal Poly. Needless to say, these plants are not rabbit resistant!

Sweet violets (or Viola adunca) may look delicate, but the plant is tough and withstands the harshest of growing conditions. Might this be something to fill in a vacant spot in the garden?


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