stinky violets

Ted - Maine - 5aJanuary 30, 2001

Well, I *finally* managed to obtain a plant of Viola odorata -- after unsuccessfully trying to start them from seed, I traveled a long distance to a nursery that had one. I was excited! Our native violets here in the U.S. don't have much fragrance, and I had heard great things about the fragrance of European violets.

Well, they *are* fragrant! But . . . has anyone noticed . . . that the fragrance of violets recalls . . . how to put this . . . body odor?

Not in a *bad* way, exactly -- but in an undeniable way. Like somone who's been exercising heavily and wearing perfume instead of taking a bath. Am I crazy? Or do I simply have a bad batch? I think the variety is "Elaine."

Hope I haven't spoiled anyone's enjoyment. After a friend pointed out that root beer tastes like toothpaste . . . it was never quite the same.

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PETER Robinson

Dear Ted,
I have never come across the violet cultivar 'Elaine', and I have certainly never come across the 'body odour scent that you mention.

However the foliage of v. odorata does have the smell of freshly cut cucumber, and whilst some of the perfumes of the flowers do differ in intensity I have found that in general they are all sweet, like candy and perfume.

I am intrigued by your description of the violet that you have bought, would it be possible to obtain some more details about it, and where you bought it.

I look forward to your next posting.

Peter Robinson,
Horticultural Advisor,
American Violet Society.

Here is a link that might be useful: American Violet Society

    Bookmark   January 31, 2001 at 10:20AM
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Mike Hardman

Hi Ted,

If I may suggest a logical, if tongue-in-cheek, conclusion: perhaps it is the other way around: perhaps the body odor you are most familiar with actually smells of sweet violets !

It is not quite the same word, but 'Elaine' is not a million miles from 'Etain', especially if the label was written by hand - a 't' could seem to be an 'l'. Yes?
You're not related to BobE on the American Violet Society discussion board are you ? He was looking for Viola 'Entain' recently; I suggested that might be a typo for 'Etain'. And back in October Bob Sippel was looking for Viola 'Etain' (which is a much more easily solved request).
Weird, eh ?

And one of the problems with Viola 'Etain', in your context, is that it is not a Viola odorata cultivar - it is more of a heartsease / johnny-jump-up. So, I'd like to know if the label with your plant has any picture or description on it - and if so whether it matches your plant itself. If not, I wouldn't be surprised if the label had erroneously been moved from the real 'Etain' into your plant's pot. ...In which case we don't know which cultivar you have got. But so long as it smells like your sweet arm pits, who cares ?!

Have a good day, cheers, Mike

Here is a link that might be useful: Bob's query on Viola 'Entain'

    Bookmark   January 31, 2001 at 7:04PM
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Ted - Maine - 5a

Thanks, Mike. No, I would recognize 'Etain' -- it's been advertised heavily lately. And the V. tricolor / cornuta group look totally different. I'm not 100% sure on my memory of the var. "Elaine" -- I'll see if I still have the label -- but I'm pretty sure on "odorata." Label said so, and it's definitely got the heart-shaped or almost-round leaves that V. odorata is illustrated as having. I bought it from Rice Creek Gardens in Minneapolis (very good place). I remember the owner saying: this will be especially good for reblooming, "because it has the semperflorens" . . . as if it also had genes from some other species. But I don't know a V. semperflorens.

Anyway, I'm not complaining! Just observing that the fragrance of this plant seems pleasantly . . . earthy, compared to some other fragrances.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2001 at 5:25PM
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Ted - Maine - 5a

By the way, I think what I'm interpreting as an "earthy" or, shall we say, "musky" overtone to the scent may actually be identical to what Peter was calling the "freshly-cut cucumber" aspect. Just two different ways of describing the same thing. I'll try to think of cucumbers instead.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2001 at 5:28PM
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PETER Robinson

Dear Ted,
I am intrigued by this new violet of yours, as I said in my original reply I have never come across the name 'Elaine' and would appreciate some more information on it for some research I am undertaking on cultivars around the world.

Could I ask if you have the appropriate entry from the Rice Creek Gardens catalogue, that you post the information on e-mail, as this would be very valuable information and would contribute enormously to the research.

Thank you very much.

Peter Robinson.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2001 at 4:46AM
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Ted - Maine - 5a

Well, you're right, Peter. I visited the Rice Creek web site, and I see that my memory was playing tricks on me. It's Viola odorata 'Lianne.' (I transposed a few letters!)

Here's the web site:

Here is a link that might be useful: Rice Creek shade plants

    Bookmark   February 7, 2001 at 6:09PM
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PETER Robinson

Dear Ted,
Thanks for clearing up the mystery, and thanks for the link to Rice creek Gardens I will be contacting them soon, as they have a few cultivars that I have not coma across and I would like some cultural details.


    Bookmark   February 8, 2001 at 5:50AM
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Tom - 6-7

I think I understand what your talking about, with the scent of Viola odorata. I've always noticed a "not terribly pleasant" scent-note hiding out along with the sweet notes. I can recommend you smell a Parma violet, I've never noticed any of the undesirable scent in Parma violet scent--just pure sweet. As further support for your observation, my mother thinks the sweet violet smells like a diaper--and I don't mean new diaper. A colleague at works said practically the very same thing. I've also noticed this smell (only weaker) in the flowers of the trailing Viola hederacea. Don't get me wrong anyone, I still enjoy the Viola odorata scent, in spite of how this may all sound.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2001 at 10:45AM
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Nathalie France

Hi Ted!

I had to dig up that old posting to add few comments about your ' stinky violets'!
On last 10th may, we had here in France a special day on fragances of violets. The season was extremely late but as the weather here was very bad, I could pick a selection of flowers from few varieties and bring them in Paris. There a professionnal "nose" could identify the various components of a fragance of violets...This man is Gilles Romey who works for Rochas...
No less than 6 scents could be found, more or less expressed depending on the variety!
I think that the scent of animal you found is in fact the scent of horses ( acetate de paracresyl in french), also found in Narcissus.Then:
Scent of fruits ( peches, prunes..) and of sweets
Scent of iris ( ionone and methyl ionone)
Scent of course of cucumber
Scent of spices ( pepper..)as in Dianthus.
And amazingly, a scent of Lilac, only in the double variety ' De Bruneau'

This experience will be extended in the future to many varieties. This will be very valuable for the grower to add a description of the scent of their violet to the description of the variety...

Will keep you informed!

    Bookmark   May 26, 2001 at 12:23PM
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I am doing all this watching and waiting on my (The Czar and Princess of Wales) violet seeds and seedlings, only to end up smelling a dirty diaper?!?

    Bookmark   May 27, 2001 at 12:27PM
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Do'nt worry, I have been playing with violets for 30 or so years and never once have they reminded me of dirty diapers, I think a few people need to get their noses tested, or perhaps it is the compost or feed they are using!!

    Bookmark   May 28, 2001 at 2:51AM
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Tom Silvers 6or7

It's interesting to me that the professional "nose" found the scent of horses in sweet violets. The background scent that I mentioned as being described as a dirty diaper by friends, I've described as a barn scent (the barns I worked in for seven years being on a racehorse farm). I hope that Violet Skies and Clives aren't offended by these suggestions. I still like Sweet Violets very much. The "horse scent" is after all, just a background note in the overall scent which is so much more than just "barnyard". And as Nathalie mentioned, this scent is also found in the very much enjoyed Narcissus. There are other unpleasant scents (indoles if I remember correctly) that are components of many of our favorite fragrant flowers; especially many of the ones described as "heavy at times." The fragrance of a flower as a whole is not necessarily unpleasant, just because a component would be unpleasant on its own.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2001 at 1:39PM
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No offence taken Tom, I guess everyone is stuck with their own noses, perhaps I should be gratefull that mine is missing the "diaper gene"!!

    Bookmark   May 31, 2001 at 2:13AM
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Tom Silvers

I'm glad you understand. By the way, do you notice a difference between a typical odorata and a Parma Violet in type of fragrance? I've only ever had one Parma, God rest its soul, but it had (in my mind) the best smell I've ever smelled in a flower. Even better than strawberry flowers or musk roses, and they're hard to beat. I think the Parma I had was a "Duchesse d'something or other".
As a side note, last year I did a controlled pollination on Viola odorata var. sulphurea, using pollen from the violet called "Clive Groves". I'm hoping to combine the fragrance of your namesake with the color and/or "almost weedy" growth habit of the former. Take care, Tom.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2001 at 9:13AM
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Dear Tom,
Yes there is a distinct difference between parma and odorata perfume, I was asked to comment at the Paris smelly conference that Nathalie refered to in which I compared this way, "Viola odorata or sweet violet has a very deep, almost hint of liquorice smell, a full bodied rich smell but strangely subtle at the same time, I think the perfume must be likened to a well matured red wine, while at the same time the smell of the parma violet is just the opposite and must be likened to a young white wine, aromatic, candy sweet, subtley pungent when it first meets the nostril" The violet you refered to was Duchess de Parma.
I was interested to read about your crossing, did you get the seed to set ok ? if so have you sown it yet? if so has it germinated yet? if so can you see the habit of the plant yet? The violet Clive Groves was a seedling my father named after me many years ago and it has stood the test of time pretty well.
All the best Clive

    Bookmark   June 1, 2001 at 2:56AM
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Nathalie France

In the conference, the " nose" found in parmas two tones of scents:
Iris and fruits + sweet scents...

    Bookmark   June 1, 2001 at 5:51AM
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Tom Silvers 6or7

Hello Clive,
Thanks for the scent descriptions. They closely match my memories of the Parma.
The violet "Clive Groves" has definitely been a survivor for me here on the mid Atlantic coast of the U.S. The other few odorata types that I've tried, have disappeared. Only "Clive Groves" remains to accompany the thriving patch of odorata var. sulphurea. The sulphurea grows and spreads almost like a weed here.
That was why I tried the cross in the first place; I wanted the vigor of sulphurea with some scent from "Clive Groves".
I got excellent seed set in two separate pods and great germination (unfortunately the first inch or so of growth occurred in between paper towels in the refrigerator). Being unable to separate the seedlings at that point, I planted the mass (paper towel included) in a pot. Once the seedlings had several true leaves, the communal clump was transferred to a sheltered place outdoors and in the ground. So far the clump still looks great and its been close to three months. I expect that maybe I'll get to see bloom in the spring of 2002. I always try to keep my hopes from getting to great; something unfortunate could happen to the seedlings or they could turn out to be plain sulphurea. I think there's a good chance that they are hybrids so... Wish me luck. Talk to you later, Tom.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2001 at 9:01AM
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Please please tell me where I can get your namesake violets, Clive! Seeds, plants, whatever...and will they be perennials here in zone 5 WI?? I am fed up with my Thompson and Morgan seeds, which I've since found out will only be perennials in zone 8 and higher. Come on, make my day! ;-)

    Bookmark   June 11, 2001 at 1:22AM
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Dear Violet Skies,

Hi, concerning, "V. Clive Groves",I am sure my friend John Whittlesey, Canyon Creek Nursery, California, will have it in stock, or at least have stock plants to produce cuttings from later, he once told me that he recommends this variety as a good doer,
Best Wishes Clive

    Bookmark   June 11, 2001 at 3:22AM
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stefanb8(z7 MD)

Reading through this thread has made me curious about the scents of various violet cultivars. I live a short distance from the aforementioned Rice Creek Gardens and bought a V. o. 'Semperflorens' there this year (however its florens haven't been very semper yet - maybe this is because the plants were overcrowded in their pot until now). I wonder, though, what relationship the owners of said nursery were trying to explain between 'Semperflorens' and 'Lianne' - some kind of trait similarity? What do you suppose that could be? I should really have bought a 'Lianne' while I was there. I'll have to compare the fragrance of the flowers next spring with my other odorata cultivar, I suppose.

One thing has baffled me in discussions about violet scents, and that is the supposed cucumber-like odor present in the leaves of V. odorata. I cannot smell this, not one bit, and yet I can normally say that I have a discerning sense of smell. I've tried brushing the leaves, crushing them, sticking my nose amongst them when they least expect it, but nothing. It's driving me mad. Is there something wrong with me? Anyway, I thought I'd share this and hopefully others like me will come forward. And maybe there's a support group for this.

The gardening season here is almost over. We've been fortunate to get this far into the autumn without being buried under snow or frozen solid, and I was able to tuck a number of 'Semperflorens' violets into our apple orchard. The goal is to eventually have enough to harvest blossoms for candying, etc. without feeling so guilty about it. My idea is to mix them with the crocuses that were planted last year and some checkered fritillarias, which should hopefully compliment the color of the violets. Well, either that, or it will completely clash! I'll just cross my fingers on that one.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2002 at 4:30AM
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camiafan(Killeen, TX)

This exchange about the scents of violets was amusing.

Can anyone please tell me where I can order seeds of viola odorata and plants or seeds of parma violets? Thanks for the info.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2003 at 11:49PM
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membertom(zone 6)

You can get plants of odorata and Parma violets from Canyon Creek Nuresery.

I don't normally smell the cucumber scent but, I have noticed the cucumber leaf scent coming from Viola riviniana X odorata seedlings that were infected with some kind of leaf mold or mildew. I'm wondering if maybe the scent was coming from the mold/leaf interaction.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2003 at 7:38AM
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I am years late to this party and all ofyu may know this by now, but there is a fragrant viola called 'Elaine Quin'.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2014 at 5:01PM
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