Violas v. Pansies: What's the Difference?
Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a viola and a pansy? Viola is actually the genus under which there are over 500 different species. Among those species are pansies. Pansies were actually derived from violas, so technically all pansies areviolas but not all violas are pansies. Violas are often called Johnny jump-ups in the US, as they tend to self-seed and can spread throughout your garden on their own, creating a thicker garden bed layer.
Now that we know the difference, how can we tell them apart? Pansies are generally larger flowers than traditional violas, with larger leaves too. Pansies usually only have a few flowers on the plant at a time. Violas, on the other hand, are generally more petite, have smaller leaves to match, and many more blooms at one time, self-seeding constantly to create larger mounds throughout the seasons. Because of this, violas tend to have a more “trailing” tendency than pansies, which tend to stand upright proudly at 3”-8” tall. Violas are hardier in cold temps, so you are more likely to see them in late winter and early autumn. Pansies, though not as strong nor as prolific, provide louder pops of color in your garden with their larger blooms.
As if this wasn’t confusing enough, there are also panolas, which are a hybrid of the viola and pansy, bred to gather the best of both worlds. Whatever variety you choose, they are bound to bring beautiful, delicate joyful blooms to your garden beds.
Symbolism and Folklore
The name “pansy” is derived from the French pensée, meaning “thought.” In The Love Language of Flowers, the pansy symbolizes “you occupy my thoughts” or “think of me.” Shakespeare mentions pansies in Hamlet when Ophelia remarks, “There’s pansies, that’s for thoughts,” while distributing flowers after the death of her father. The pansy was also a vital ingredient in Celtic love potions and was believed to have magical properties, including the power to heal a broken heart. For Victorians, pansies were traditional Valentine’s Day flowers, often exchanged between lovers.
Folklore has it that you should never pick a pansy while it has drops of dew on it, or it will herald the death of a loved one.
What do I do with my pansies and violas? Mostly, Maddie and I press them. They’re edible, so they make a gorgeous garnish on salads and cocktails. They’re welcoming prolific mounds of color in the garden too, often among the first to bloom in the spring and the last to fade in early autumn.
Violas are among my very favorite flowers. Delicate and charming yet never loud of obvious. This year, I’ve enjoyed shopping for different varieties at my local nurseries as well as growing more rare hybrids from seed. I’m head over heals!