Violets and pansies in Assynt

April 25th 2017

The first two photographs here were taken recently near Achmelvich by David Haines and they depict one of the harbingers of spring in Assynt, the common dog-violet Viola riviniana. Key characters are the branched veins on the lower petal, which traverse a white area in the throat and then a band that is slightly darker than the blue-violet of the rest of the flowers. These two flowers differ markedly, however, in the shape of the petals, part of the considerable variation shown by this species, which is the most widespread of the six species of Viola found in Assynt. V. riviniana may also be recognised by its pale spurs and broad but pointed leaves.

Only one other Viola is at all common in the parish, the marsh violet V. palustris, which has smaller, bluish-lilac flowers and rounded leaves, as wide as they are long. The only other local violet is the heath dog-violet V. canina, with bluish or bluish-grey flowers, a yellow spur, and more or less triangular leaves. It has only recently been noted at two places on the limestone in the vicinity of Inchnadamph, but there are older records from Achmelvich, Clachtoll and Stoer on the coast, where it may still occur.

The three other local species of Viola are known as pansies, and all are rare. Wild pansy V. tricolor is sky-blue, violet, yellow, cream, or a combination of these colours, and has recently been found in disturbed ground at Little Assynt and Drumbeg (the third photograph, by Ian Evans, shows an example), but field pansy V. arvensis, which is yellow or cream, has not been seen since 2000. There remains mountain pansy V. lutea, usually yellow, but sometimes blue or purple, which was found on the limestone at Inchnadamph in 1886 and 1899, but has never been seen since.

So, keep an eye open for any violets or pansies that look a bit different; there will be a serious prize, from me, for anyone who re-discovers the mountain pansy!

Ian Evans

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