- Author: Michelle Davis
One of the cheeriest parts of spring, in my opinion, is the Johnny-Jump-Up. No, not the Irish drinking song, but the flower, known officially known as Viola tricolor or Viola cornuta. The white, yellow and purple pansy-like flower is an ancestor of the modern pansy. A hardy perennial it is often grown as an annual. If left for a second year, it will rebloom. While a native of the mountains of Spain and France, it has spread throughout Europe and parts of Asia as well as in North America. Thomas Jefferson planted it at his childhood home in Virginia. Further back, Shakespeare mentioned the flower in his plays Hamlet and The Taming of the Shrew. In Midsummer Night's Dream it was the source of the love potion. Ancient Greek mythology has it that the flower used to be white until it was struck by one of Cupid's arrows. Related to all of those stories, you can see why the flowers have so many other names: hearts ease, ladies' delight, tickle my fancy, heart's delight, wild pansy, Jump-Up-and-Kiss-Me. The flower was used to treat rheumatism, respiratory problems, epilepsy, eczema and even venereal disease. It was also considered a diuretic. It was employed as a yellow and as a green fabric dye.
Viola tricolor is spring through fall, a flowering perennial that will multiply and can reseed and naturalize if left through the winter. In the partial shade, it will bloom from early spring until the first frost. It can become a groundcover. I have planted them straight in the ground, but with our alkaline, clay soils, I have had more success with containers. Johnny-Jump-Ups like neutral to acidic soil. They attract butterflies. They are also edible. I have only eaten them candied on a slice of wedding cake. All I tasted was sugar. But they can be picked from the plant and eaten. They are said to have a minty taste. The taste and scent are strongest in the early morning.
A relative of the Viola tricolor is Viola pedunculata, AKA California golden violet, found in open woodlands, chaparrals and sage scrub along the California coast. I remember seeing this beauty while hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains at Paramount Ranch years ago. The flowers are a deep yellow, almost orange with a dark brown center and bright green, heart-shaped leaves.