Viola odorata, Sweet Violet,
Hebrew: סגל ריחני, Arabic: بنفسج

Scientific name:  Viola odorata L.
Common name:  Sweet Violet, Common Violet
Hebrew name:  סגל ריחני
Arabic name:  بنفسج
Plant Family:  Violaceae, סגליים

Native plants of Palestine

Life form:  Hemicryptophyte
Stems:  6–15 cm tall; spreading by long, leafy stolons, finely hairy
Leaves:  Alternate, rosette, orbicular, obtuse, entire, dentate or serrate; stipules broadly ovate
Inflorescence:  Scapose; peduncle 4–15 cm
Flowers:  Violet, fragrant; sepals ovate, obtuse; petals deep to pale blue-violet, pale blue, or white, generally white basally, lateral 2 generally bearded with cylindric hairs, lowest 12–22 mm, generally veined purple; spur ± 3 mm
Fruits / pods:  Capsule, globose, 3-valved, puberulent
Flowering Period:  April, May
Habitat:  Mediterranean maquis and forest
Distribution:  Mediterranean Woodlands and Shrublands, Montane vegetation of Mt. Hermon
Chorotype:   Med - Euro-Siberian
Summer shedding:  Ephemeral

Native plants of Israel


Derivation of the botanical name:
Viola, a classical Latin name for violets.
odorata, odoro, to smell, give off a fragrance, be perfumed; scented
  • The standard author abbreviation L. is used to indicate Carl Linnaeus (1707 – 1778), a Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, the father of modern taxonomy.
"Radiant, violet-crowned, by minstrels sung,
Bulwark of Hellas, Athens illustrious."


"When we sailed from the blue Piraeus
Under the Violet Crown,
The sun hung over the mast-head
Like Pallas, above the town."


The violet was next in estimation to the rose among the ancients, who mention the black and the white sorts.
  • In ancient Greece, the playwright Aristophanes (ca.446–ca.386 BCE), referred to Athens as the “Violet-Crowned City (ίοστεφάνους, men of the violet-chaplets),” because Ion, the legendary founder of Athens who was crowned there, was an exact match of “ion,” the Greek word for violet.
  • Acing to Theophrastus (c.371– c.287 BCE) violas were commercially available in Athens as early as 400 BCE.
    According to legend, Iamos was the son of the nymph, Euadne, and Apollo, an Olympian god. He was abandoned by his mother at birth. She left him lying in the Arkadian wilds on a bed of violets where he was fed honey by serpents. Eventually he was discovered by passing shepherds who named him Iamos after the violet (ion) bed. [Source: Pindar, Pindarus (ca.522–443BCE), Greek lyric poet].
    According to legend, Ion was leading his people to Attica and was welcomed by water nymphs, who gave him violets as signs of their good wishes. Thus violets became the city's emblem, and no Athenian home, altar or wedding was complete without them.
  • The goddess Persephone, the daughter of the Earth Mother Demeter, was picking violets when Pluto kidnapped her to live with him in the underworld.
  • Violets grew where Orpheus slept, and it was Venus who made violets blue. Disputing with her son Cupid over who was more beautiful, herself or a group of young maidens, Cupid favored the maidens. Venus flew into such a rage that she beat her competitors till they turned blue and became violets. Their connection to Venus made violets a popular love potion and aphrodisiac.
  • The Romans made a sweet wine from the violet. Wine was the most esteemed drink and was part of any important meal. Depending on the time of the year, the wine could be infused with violets, rose petals, or iris root (Iris germanica).
  • Viola odorata was also well known to the Arabian physicians, as Mesue the Elder (777-857CE) commends its use highly in various inflammatory diseases.
  • Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), French general and emperor, loved Viola odorata. Josephine, Napoleon’s wife wore violets on her wedding day and on each anniversary Napolean sent her a violet bouquet. In 1814, Napoleon asked to visit Josephine's tomb, before being exiled to the Island of St. Helena. There he picked the violets that were found in a locket around his neck after he died.
    During the exile of Napoleon I at Elba, in the year 1814, preceding Napoleon's abdication, the French Bonapartists chose, as their emblem, the violet because of the Capitulation of Paris. They nicknamed Napoleon "Caporal Violet, the little flower that returns with spring".
  • Viola odorata in William Shakespeare's Hamlet (1564-1616).
    The final time Ophelia, a fictional character in the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare (1564-1616), appears in the play, is after Laertes comes to the castle to challenge Claudius over the death of his father, Polonius. Ophelia sings songs and hands out flowers, citing their symbolic meanings although interpretations of the meanings differ. She tells the King Laertes and Queen Gertrude, "I would give you some violets, but they wither'd all when my father died. They say he made a good end" (symbol for faithfulness or fidelity).


    EIN VEILCHEN
    Johann Wolfgang Goethe, 1749-1832,
    (Melodie - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 1756-1791)

    Ein Veilchen auf der Wiese stand
    Gebückt in sich und unbekannt;
    Es war ein herzig's Veilchen!
    Da kam ein' junge Schäferin
    Mit leichtem Schritt und munterm Sinn
    Die Wiese her und sang.

    Ach! denkt das Veilchen, wär' ich nur
    Die schönste Blume der Natur,
    Ach, nur ein kleines Weilchen,
    Bis mich das Liebchen abgepflückt
    Und an dem Busen mattgedrückt,
    Ach, nur ein Viertelstündchen lang!

    Ach, aber ach, das Mädchen kam
    Und nicht in Acht das Veilchen nahm,
    Es trat das arme Veilchen!
    Es sank und starb und freut sich noch:
    "Und sterb ich denn, so sterb ich doch
    Durch sie, zu ihren Füßen doch!"
    Das arme Veilchen!
    Es war ein herzig's Veilchen!
    THE VIOLET

    UPON the mead a violet stood,
    Retiring,and of modest mood,
    In truth, a violet fair.
    Then came a youthful shepherdess,
    And roam'd with sprightly joyousness,
    And blithely woo'd
    With carols sweet the air

    "Ah!" thought the violet, "had I been
    For but the smallest moment e'en
    Nature's most beauteous flower,
    'Till gather'd by my love, and press'd,
    When weary, 'gainst her gentle breast,
    For e'en, for e'en
    One quarter of an hour!"

    Alas! alas! the maid drew nigh,
    The violet failed to meet her eye,
    She crush'd the violet sweet.
    It sank and died, yet murmur'd not:
    "And if I die, oh, happy lot,
    For her I die,
    And at her very feet!"