FlowersPinkish purple, lavender, or pale magenta ; less than t in. long; borne on slender stems in umbels or forking clusters, each containing from 3 to 12 flowers. Calyx of 5 obtuse sepals; 5 petals; 10 (5 longer, 5 shorter) stamens; 5 styles persistent above 5-celled ovary. Stem : From brownish, scaly bulb 4 to 9 in. high. Leaves : About t in. wide, compounded of 3 rounded, clover-like leaflets with prominent midrib, borne at end of slender petioles, springing from root.
Preferred HabitatRocky and sandy woods.
Flowering SeasonMay June.
DistributionNorthern United States to Rocky Mountains, south to Florida and New Mexico; more abundant southward.
Beauty of leaf and blossom is not the only attraction possessed by this charming little plant. As a family the wood-sorrels have great interest for botanists since Darwin devoted such exhaustive study to their power of movement, and many other scientists have described the several forms assumed by perfect flowers of the same species to secure cross-fertilization. Some members of the clan also bear blind flowers, which have been described in the account of the white wood-sorrel given above. Even the rudimentary leaves of the seedlings ” go to sleep ” at evening, and during the day are in constant movement up and down. The stems, too, are restless; and as for the mature leaves, every child knows how they droop their three leaflets back to back against the stem at evening, elevating them to the perfect horizontal again by day. Extreme sensltiveness to light has been thought to be the true explanation of so much activity, and yet this is not a satisfactory theory in many cases. It is certain that drooping leaves suffer far less from frost than those whose upper surfaces are flatly exposed to the zenith. This view that the sleep of leaves saves them from being chilled at night by radiation is Darwin’s own, supported by innumerable experiments ; and probably it would have been advanced by Linnaeus, too, since so many of his observations in ” Somnus Plantarum ” verify the theory, had the principle of radiation been discovered in his day.
The violet wood-sorrel produces two sorts of perfect flowers reciprocally adapted to each other, but on different plants in the same neighborhood. The two are essentially alike, except in arrangement of stamens and pistil; one flower having high anthers and low stigmas, the other having lower anthers and higher stigmas; and as the high stigmas are fertile only when pollenized with grains from a flower having high anthers, it is evident insect aid to transfer pollen is indispensable here. Small bees, which visit these blossoms abundantly, are their benefactors; although there is nothing to prevent pollen from falling on the stigmas of the short-styled form. Hildebrand proved that productiveness is greatest, or exists only, after legitimate fertilization. To accomplish cross-pollination, many plants bear flowers of opposite sexes on different individuals; but the violet wood-sorrel’s plan, utilized by the bluet and partridge-vine also, has the advantage in that both kinds of its flowers are fruitful.