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© 2001 All Rights Reserved.

Volume 2, Number 2
Spring 2001
On line Version


Viola Mandshurica:
Japan's favorite violet
By  Masashi Igari
(From the series "Island Violets")

      By Masashi Igari, AVS Taxonomy Advisor, Photographer (Japan).

Image of Viola mandshurica
Viola mandshurica
Photo by Masashi Igari © 2001



            "Sumire" is Japanese for Violet. And in Japan, most violets' nomenclature makes use of the suffix "Sumire." For example: Nagahashi-sumire (Viola rostrata) means "the violet with a long spur." Or take Miyama-sumire (Viola selkirkii), that is, the violet "growing in the deep mountain."

             Among all these violets, you can find a very special violet, Viola mandshurica bearing, simply, the Japanese name for violet, "sumire." The name "sumire" represents this species as well as the whole gamut of violets to be found in our country. Of course, it can lead to confusion when discussing violets in detail, because we use the term "sumire" without adjectives for this particular species.

             Although it originates in China, v. mandshurica represents the Japanese violet and the word violet immediately brings to mind v. mandshurica. This in itself accounts for its popularity in Japan but truly, there is another violet that is just as common and a native of Japan, and that is viola grypoceras. From the ecological point of view, v. grypoceras is a true native but the Japanese still consider viola mandshurica the Japanese violet par excellence and most representative of all violets.

             One of the reasons for the popularity of v. mandshurica is the facility with which it can be crossed with other species, but this is only of importance to violet enthusiasts and not a well-known fact for the public at large.

             In my opinion, the popularity of v. mandshurica is connected to the traditional aesthetics as cherished by the Japanese culture. The deep violet color and sharp narrow leaves make them widely accepted because the color violet has been the noblest of colors since ancient times when only the nobility was allowed to wear clothes of purple color. Therefore, in people's minds, the "right" violet color approximates that of the flowers of v. mandshurica, not the pale and somewhat shabby color of v. grypoceras. The choice is clear but it bears noting that v. mandshurica also grows in Northeast China and the Russian Far East, and originates from a Chinese locality.

             This spring I saw v. mandshurica in Russia, near the Chinese border, that is, Manchuria. I felt the violet was somewhat different from the one found in Japan. And although I'm no taxonomy expert, I wish that these two violets were in fact two different species, and the new name given to the popular Japanese violet be Viola sumireana or something like that. Only then, our "sumire" could become the true representative of the Japanese violet not only in its Japanese name but in its scientific one as well.             

© 2001 Masashi Igari
For The American Violet Society
All Rights Reserved


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