As a native of Western Pennsylvania, I usually thinks of violets in the cool, moist habitats of forests, meadows and streams. I knew where every patch of white, blue and yellow violets could be found within walking distance of my childhood home. Here in the high desert of Northeastern California though, there is a lovely violet that grows in arid lithosol (rocky, thin soil in basaltic or lava flow areas) communities. The sagebrush violet (Viola trinervata) blossoms very early in the spring and by summer the plants are dormant and dried up. There is only a small window to enjoy this beauty.
The sagebrush violet has the usual five petals of the Viola family, two petals above, two lateral petals and one large lower petal that extends backward to form a spur or hollow sac at its base. The upper two petals are reddish violet and the lower three petals are lilac with purple lines and a yellow base. Unlike most violet leaves, the sagebrush violet leaves are fleshy and leathery. It looks a little like a domesticated pansy, which belongs to the same family.
The leaves and flowers of all violet species are edible and contain large amounts of Vitamins C and A. Although I put the vast fields of other violet species to culinary uses, the sagebrush violets do not occur in large enough quantities to justify picking them for jams, jellies, syrups or other uses. Instead I enjoy their transient color in the early spring and perhaps nibble a couple of flowers or leaves as I pass by. Later I will share some recipes for other more prolific violet species.
This sagebrush violet was photographed at Ash Creek Wildlife Area (Modoc County CA).