Officially named the New Jersey State Flower in 1971, the common meadow violet is no shy bloom. The three to eight inch tall plant boasts a delicate blue/purple flower that most residents can identify immediately. Easily found on roadsides, backyards, city parks, and woodland paths, it is sometimes considered a weed, but with such a winsome appearance, it is a favorite one for children to pluck and present to their parents.
The perennial returns every year, no matter how harsh the winter might have been. It freely reseeds and is capable of invading a lawn and turning it into a lavendar carpet from early April to mid-June. The plant features dark green heart-shaped leaves supporting a single stem ending in the five delicate petals. At times, variants appear with either a white slash in the middle of a purple bloom, or as the primary color with only small dots of violet smudging its bright countenance.
Indigenous to North America, it has long been known to be used as a medicinal herb. Native American Cherokees collected it to treat colds, headaches and upset stomach. It was also grown as a food source, the flowers and leaves known to be edible. Certainly it is a favorite fodder of deer and woodchucks. The wild animals will pass by other grasses to feast on a meadow of delicate violets.
Violets have been noted throughout history, appearing in Greek myth and texts of the Bible. One Greek tale has violets springing up out of the blood of Attis, a lover of Cybele the Mother Goddess. A bible story tells of violets growing on the hill where Jesus was crucified. Upon his death, their blooms drooped in shame at what mankind had done to the Son of God. Violets are often featured in Good Friday service floral displays.
Whatever their role in history, violets remain a cheerful herald of Spring, providing a splash of color in a landscape often dominated by lingering mud. Whether they are grown in a flower bed or simply pop up in a swath of grass, their widespread presence throughout the state surely makes the common meadow violet an excellent state flower for New Jersey.