“Violet, you’re turning violet!”
Everyone knows these iconic lines from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, where one of the kids starts to change colors after chewing the forbidden gum.
Or how about this one–“Roses are red, violets are blue.” You’ve probably gotten a Valentine’s Day card with these words on the cover at some point in your life, right?
Without even realizing it, the violet is entrenched into some of our most iconic pop culture references. But this cultural awareness of violets is nothing new; people have been obsessed with the plant throughout time, leading to a fascinating history that you probably never knew existed. Let’s dig in.
Saints and Sinners
In Greek mythology, the origin of the violet is actually rather brutal. The story goes that Venus, the Goddess of beauty, got so jealous of other beautiful maidens that she beat them up until their purple bruises turned into violets. Ouch. A more friendly, romantic legend claims that violets were first discovered by St. Valentine, who would crush them up and use them as ink for his love notes.
Regardless of how the violet came about, it’s had some pretty amazing features in pop culture since. One of the most famous–and eerie–historical references to the violet is Napoleon’s exile. Even before he was sent away, his followers started to call him Pere Violette due to his infamous claim that, just like the violets, he would be back in just one year after his exile. This connection between Napoleon and violets was so strong that a famous French art piece depicting a simple bouquet of violets is actually hiding his silhouette in the negative space of the painting.
Never Out of Style
Today, violets aren’t quite as dramatic as Venus and Napoleon made them out to be, but they still hold an extra-special place in modern pop culture. The Willy Wonka reference is probably the most famous movie character named after the flower, but there’s also Violet Baudelaire in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (a book series turned Netflix Original) and Violet Parr in The Incredibles.
One of the biggest ways that violets contribute to pop culture is by providing the #43 most popular baby name in the United States! Celebrity couple Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck named their daughter Violet in 2015, and since then, the once-antiquated baby name has skyrocketed to the top of the charts. It broke into the top 50 for the first time ever in 2018, and it shows no signs of slowing down.
Find Your Violet Variety
If you want to get in on the magic of violets, you’re in luck; the plant is versatile enough to grow in a wide variety of heat and precipitation environments. You do have to pay attention, however, to the variety of violet that you choose to plant. Today’s violets can be broken up into two categories, African violets or true violets. African violets are better as houseplants, needing more shade, and have five rounded petals. True violets, on the other hand, grow outside with deep roots and have hairier heart-shaped leaves.
Choosing between these two varieties of violets is mostly a question of where you want to grow your plants, since each type has a strong preference for indoors or outdoors. It’s important not to try to plant African violets outside or true violets inside just because you prefer the way they look, especially if you are a beginner. But rest assured; with hundreds of cultivars to choose from, you can unleash your inner Napoleon and find the perfect violet for your garden.