Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Violets: With Sherlock, Napoleon, Black Eyes, and Cuddles

Today we discovered gorgeous carpets of violets in the forests around Liepnitzsee. These ones look like the early dog-violet, or Viola reichenbachiana. It is named after the Dresden-born botanist Heinrich Gustav Reichenbach, who was the foremost German orchidologist of the nineteenth century. Being a big Sherlock fan though, I always think instead of the Reichenbach Falls where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's hero had his final confrontation with Prof. Moriarty.

I also think of Napoleon when I see this flower; the violet was his favorite and he was given the nickname Corporal Violet. When leaving Paris for his exile on Elba, Napoleon declared that he would return to France when the violets will bloom. The following year he managed to escape from the tiny Italian Island, and true to his word he arrived back in Paris on 20th March 1815. It is nearly a month later than that, but Spring has been late coming this year.

In German, violets are called Veilchen, and dog-violets Hundveilchen. 'Veilchen' is also the name for a black-eye, and if you are completely drunk then you are said to be 'blau wie ein Veilchen'!

The Romatic poet Heinrich Heine described them beautifully in his ode 'On Wings of Song', which was set to music by Felix Mendelssohn. He wrote that:

"Veilchen kichern und kosen / Und schaun nach den Sternen empor."
(The violets giggle and cuddle, and look up at the stars aloft)

That's perfect! The little flower heads nod up and down in the breeze as if they are giggling, whilst they definitely do all cozy up to one another in their crowds. Meanwhile they show their 'face' (the stamens) up to the sky, where their petals mirror the traditional shape of stars.

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