FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Viola walteri ‘Silver Gem’ is a mat forming wildflower with lovely heart shaped foliage. The one inch variegated leaves are silver with olive green veins. In spring plants are adorned by a sprinkling of diminutive blue violets. This handsome native groundcover thrives in moist well drained soils and is very drought tolerant after establishment.
HABITAT & HARDINESS: The parent species Viola walteri is native to deciduous woodlands of the eastern United States from Ohio south to the Gulf of Mexico.
‘Silver Gem’ was collected in 2003 in rich woods adjacent to Alabama’s Bibb County Glades.
This selection was trialed in the gardens at the Mt. Cuba Center and introduced in cooperation with North Creek Nursery in 2010. ‘Silver Gem’ is noteworthy for its variegated foliage that has more silver color than the straight species.
‘Silver Gem’ is hardy from USDA Zones 5-8.
PLANT DESCRIPTION: Viola walteri ‘Silver Gem’ is a prostrate perennial with slender purplish trailing stems and short rhizomes. Plants can be deciduous in northern zones or semi-evergreen further south.
Stems are clothed in heart-shaped leaves with long petioles. Blades have shallow rounded teeth and are purplish beneath. The upper leaf surface is silvery with darker muted green or purplish veins.
The leafy stems produce diminutive purple violets through spring and sporadically until fall. This species is among the earliest violets to bloom. Flowers mature into inconspicuous seed capsules.
Plants have a dense compact habit with a 3-5” height and an average spread of 12”.
CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDS: Viola walteri ‘Silver Gem’ grows best in partial shade with rich well drained soils high in organic matter. Plants tolerate morning sun, full shade, drought, slightly acid or alkaline pH and sandy or loamy soils.
This species is pest resistant and usually not palatable to deer.
LANDSCAPE USES: Viola walteri ‘Silver Gem’ is an excellent Groundcover or Accent for the Shade Garden or Rock Garden. Plants provide Showy Blooms, Winter Interest and are appropriate for Containers, Cottage Gardens, Deer Resistant Plantings, Water-wise Landscapes, Low Maintenance Plantings and Perennial Borders.
COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS: Try planting Viola walteri ‘Silver Gem’ with Phlox divaricata, Chrysogonum virginianum, Iris cristata, Silene regia, or Spigelia marilandica.
Waldsteinia fragarioides has comparable height, habit and cultural needs. It also has attractive unique foliage and could be substituted in a pinch.
TRIVIA: Viola walteri is part of a small group of violets with blue-purple flowers that originate on leafy stems. In contrast, most Viola spp. have basal leaves and flowers on separate leafless stalks.
In 1992 Georgia botanist Jim Allison canoed the Little Cahaba River south of Birmingham, Alabama seeking populations of Arabis georgiana. He found A. georgiana and in some nearby glades discovered several other rare and unidentifiable plant species. After repeated site visits, 8 previously undocumented species were named and 7 species that were new to Alabama were discovered. The glades are situated on a Ketona formation that contains an extremely pure form of dolomite very high in magnesium. ‘Silver Gem’ was collected here in rich woods near an exposed dolomitic outcrop. The 480 acre area with the greatest concentration of rare plants was acquired by the Nature Conservancy of Alabama and is now known as the Kathy Stiles Freeland Bibb County Glades Preserve.