Viola is a genus of flowering plants in the violet family Violaceae. It is the largest genus in the family, containing between 525 and 600 species. Most species are found in the temperate Northern Hemisphere, however some are also found in widely divergent areas such as Hawaii, Australasia, and the Andes. Some Viola species are perennial plants, some are annual plants, and a few are small shrubs. A large number of species, varieties and cultivars are grown in gardens for their ornamental flowers.
In horticulture the term "pansy" is normally used for those multi-coloured, large-flowered cultivars which are raised annually or biennially from seed and used extensively in bedding. The terms "viola" and "violet" are normally reserved for small-flowered annuals or perennials, including the type species.
Viola odorata is a species of the genus Viola native to Europe and Asia, but has also been introduced to North America and Australia. It is commonly known as wood violet, sweet violet, English violet, common violet, florist's violet, or garden violet. The sweet scent of this flower has proved popular throughout the generations particularly in the late Victorian period, and has consequently been used in the production of many cosmetic fragrances and perfumes. The scent of violet flowers is distinctive with only a few other flowers having a remotely similar odour.
References to violets and the desirable nature of the fragrance go back to classical sources such as Pliny and Horace when the name ‘Ion’ was in use to describe this flower from which the name of the distinctive chemical constituents of the flower, the ionones – is derived. The leaves are edible and contain mucilage.
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