VIOLA ODORATA DUCHESS OF PARMA

“Parma’s violet flowers are very uneven. The petals, all different, are about 50 for flower. Their color tends to a mauve hue and it’s different from spontaneous violets.
The petals are so dense that they don’t allow the formation of styles and pistils. So they’re infertile plants.

This ancient type of flower is the emblem of Parma, for its connection to Maria Luigia d’Austria, Napoleone Bonaparte’s wife, and Duchess of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla from 1816 to 1847.

It’s an herbaceous, perennial, stolonifera plant. Its double set of flowers, with dense mauve-violet petals and white heart, offer incomparable scent and heart rending beauty from november to may. The double flowered violetta doesn’t exist wildly in nature; it is in fact an infertile plant that doesn’t produce seeds and propagates in a vegetative way (through stolons or head separation) thanks to specific cultivation techniques.

It’s also a very delicate plant, that doesn’t like the winter cold and the summer heat and that also gets easily sick.

The origin of this plant is unclear: the first documents referring to a double flowered violet, cultivated in gardens, go back at the XVI century, then it kind of disappears.
Later, it reappears in Italy, under the Bourbons, with a different history and origin. At the time, it’s been classified as “Viola odorata italica pallida plena” and it came from Catalogna. It’s almost sure that it arrived in Spain through the Mori, who caught it in the Middle East. It’s just an hypothesis, but it’s probably a natural crossbreed of wild and orriental violets.

As it started to spread from Naples to Europe, the British called it “Neapolitan violet”, a name that is still used.

From Bourbon to Bourbon, the double flowered violets arrived in Parma where the English Ambassador Hamilton was a huge grower. He then started the selection that lead to the “Parma Violet”. But it was with Duchess’ Maria Luigia, in 1816, that it started to be called “Viola Odorata Duchessa di Parma”.

The uncertainty of this plant’s origin is due to the fact that these violets change their look depending on the environment and, through history, got several names.

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