Friday, 8 April 2011

Dog's Tooth Violets...

The first and earliest plants of spring often have a delicate and natural beauty. Fragile but fleeting, they are up, out and over before much else in the garden has even begun to get going. Where these plants grow in the wild, they are often inhabitants of deciduous woodland. There, they must quickly come to the point of flowering and set seed before a dense canopy of leaves opens above, casting their growing space into deep shade for the rest of the season.

The beautiful ‘Dog’s Tooth Violet’ is one such woodlander, storing energy in its fleshy roots to give it a fast start as soon as the first signs of spring arrive. Its pointy fang-like roots look just like a dog’s canine teeth and give rise to its common name. 

The lovely nodding, star shaped flowers are held on long thin stems and are a daily entertainment... They close tightly shut at night in protective embrace around the floral centre. Then, as the sun strikes them each morning, the long petals curl right back and up. They would even be worth growing for the leaves alone. They are broad, blunt ended and mottled with maroon. Their speckled and patterned appearance has given rise to another of its common names- the ‘Trout Lily.’

Although violet in colour, and violet in name, these plants are not really violets at all. They are actually in the Lily family. To avoid all confusion, seek them out by their scientific name- ‘Erythronium dens-canis.’

Ours grow at the base of an old walnut tree. Or rather they did, as one wild and stormy night gale force winds blew that old tree down. They still thrive though and slowly increase there, gaining some shelter from the stump’s regrowth. They are happiest in leafy soil, under some shade and do not like to dry out. With this species it is therefore best to get hold of potted plants rather than buy the shrivelled up ‘bulbs’ in summer. 
These delightful Dog’s Tooth Violets have been highly prized and grown for many centuries in gardens. Interestingly, the ancient herbals have this to say about the plant... 'It provoketh bodily lust if it be only handled, but much more if it be drunke with wine.' Well, I can’t vouch for that, but it certainly makes for a wonderful garden plant...


  1. Hello, I am doing a paper on dog-tooth violets, and I need to know how much space they need-are they independent or do they grow in clusters?

  2. They grow in slow spreading clumps- plant a few 'bulbs' and expect them to fill a space about a foot across...


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