Gardeners' Chronicle 19: 684 (May 30, 1896)
A Contribution to the History of Pansies
Prof. V. B. Wittrock, Stockholm.

OPINIONS vary among botanists as to the origin of the cultivated Pansies. Charles Darwin discussed the question in his Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, but arrived at no definite conclusion, saying on p. 369, "Hence, after having carefully compared numerous varieties, I gave up the attempt as too difficult for anyone except a professed botanist."

My own investigations have led to the following conclusions:—

The botanists of ancient days knew of only one kind of Viola, namely, Viola odorata, L., and those of the Middle Ages were acquainted with no other.

The Heartsease, or wild Pansy, Viola tricolor, L., was first mentioned and described by O. Brunfels (1533), and L. Fuchs (1542), both Germans. The latter relates that "Herba Trinitatis"—the name by which the Heartsease was then known—was not only found wild, but was also cultivated as an ornamental plant in the gardens of Germany.

The name Pansy, so far as I have been able to make out, is used for the first time in botanical literature in 1537, by the Frenchman Ruellius, where it occurs in the Latin form Pensea.

R. Dodonaeus, from the Netherlands, is the first to use the name Viola tricolor for the Heartsease.

From the works of Dodonaeus, Dalechampius, and Gerarde, we learn that during the latter part of the sixteenth century the Heartsease was used as an ornamental plant in the Netherlands, France, and England, and that the flowers thereof showed no slight variety of colouring.

Parkinson, in 1629, describes and delineates not only the common Viola tricolor, but also a form with double-flowers from gardens in England.

From the middle of the seventeenth century Viola tricolor has existed as an ornamental plant in Italy, Denmark, Sweden, and Poland.

We learn from J. W. Weinmann, Ph. Miller, and D. Villars that Viola tricolor was a very general ornamental plant in Germany, England, and France during the eighteenth century, and Weinmann's Phytanthozoa Iconographia, published in 1745 (with coloured plates), enables us to form an exact idea of the appearance of the Pansies at that time, as the eight coloured figures representing Pansies show flowers that are neither larger nor otherwise coloured than the varieties of Viola tricolor growing wild.

Besides those small flowering V. tricolor Pansies already mentioned, from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century more large-flowering kinds were cultivated, even if but seldom, of Viola lutea, Huds., growing in the mountainous districts of Germany, Switzerland, and England. C. Clusius, the renowned botanist, in 1583 gave the first description of this plant from specimens cultivated in the gardens of J. Camerarius, of Nuremberg. In the celebrated Bishop's garden, at Eichstett, in Bavaria, four varieties of large-flowered V. lutea Pansies were cultivated in 1613, all being delineated in the gigantic Hortus Eystettensis.

J. Parkinson mentions the great yellow Pansy as in cultivation in England in 1629.

From Holland and Poland there are also statements concerning the cultivation of large-flowering Pansies in the seventeenth century, doubtless Viola lutea.

That this species was cultivated in England during the eighteenth century is proved by a statement by Ph. Miller in the Gardeners’ Dictionary. Miller certainly calls the Pansy in question V. calcarata; but as he expressly states that it came from the mountainous districts of North Britain and Wales, there can be no doubt that the true V. lutea, Huds., is really meant. Viola calcarata, as is well known, is not found in Great Britain, being a native of the Alps.

All the Pansies of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries may be called wild Pansies, as in all essential points they resembled those growing wild; and it is only in the present century that, thanks to the action of man, those numerous varieties of garden Pansies have been produced which, in their display of flowers, so vastly surpass their wild relations.

The Pansies of the present day were originally raised in England. In the early days of the present century several amateur horticulturists in England began to pay special attention to the Pansy, as for instance, Lady Mary Bennet, of Walton-on-Thames (1810), Lady Monke (1812), and Lord Gambier, of Iver (1813 or 1814), who instructed their several gardeners—of whom Thomson, of Iver, deserves special mention—to obtain as many varieties of wild and cultivated Pansies as possible. Seeding was now undertaken on a large scale in specially suitable soil, and from the seedlings thus obtained those with the largest and most beautiful flowers were selected; and continued selection was made in this way year after yearBy these means no small number of unusually beautiful and large-flowering varieties were obtained, which were undoubtedly largely hybrids, that, without any intervention from man, were produced by insects which, on visiting the flowers of the different varieties and species cultivated side by side, caused a rich cross-fertilisation. The species of Viola cultivated were those native to England, viz., the common Heartsease, Viola tricolor, L., and the yellow large-flowering Viola, V. lutea, Huds.

The last mentioned was cultivated on a large scale at an early date, as is proved by a statement made in 1819 by Dean Herbert, the well-known horticulturist and botanist, that "the great Heartsease," which, under the name of Viola grandiflora, was then sold at Covent Garden, was identical with V. lutea, Huds., from Yorkshire and Durham.

A circumstance specially favourable for the formation of new varieties of Pansies, is that the hybrids of species of that section (Melanium) to which belong the two species just mentioned, as a rule are more or less fertile, while hybrids of species belonging to other sections are generally sterile.

Reliable statements prove that dating from 1816, Viola altaica, Ker, a native of Siberia and the Caucasus, was cultivated in England. It is more than probable that this species played some slight rôle in producing some of the Pansies of those days. Several authors have even ascribed so much importance to the part played by Viola altaica in the origin of the Pansies that they consider it their real parent. This is, however, in my opinion, a mistake, as, with the exception of bearing large flowers, the Pansies of our century have scarcely a single characteristic in common with Viola altaica, and this species seem always to have been—as it still is—a great rarity in European gardens.

During the twenties and the thirties, the cultivation of Pansies became more and more general in England. J. Harrison tells us that from 1827 to 1833 nearly 200 new varieties of Pansies were raised; while Charles Darwin relates that in 1835 there were 400 named varieties of the Pansy on sale in England. An account of the then demands on a good Heartsease was given by J. Paxton in 1834: "The flower-stem must be of sufficient height and strength to raise the flower above the foliage of the plant; the petals of the flower large, flat, and without notch or fringe on the edge. The colours must be clear, brilliant, and permanent. The eye should be small compared with the size of the flower." V. B. Wittrock, Stockholm. (To be continued).

Gardeners' Chronicle 19: 726-728 (June 13, 1896)
A Contribution to the History of Pansies - 2

Fig;. 122.—Model of the old Florists' Pansy

In the thirties, one of the favourite flowers of the English was the Pansy, which competed with the Rose itself for popular favour. Both distinguished amateurs and talented nurserymen devoted them. selves to the cultivation of the Pansy, and gained one success after another. The English horticultural societies offered prizes for the finest flowers. Every nobleman, every owner of an estate wished to have their special collection of Pansies, and the nurserymen, who were well rewarded for their pains, did everything they could to keep alive the interest of the public by constantly producing new varieties. In the middle of the thirties the price for new and good varieties was 5s, a plant, and for specially excellent ones a far higher price was paid; £10 was offered for the seedling of "Metropolitan," and refused. Those varieties raised from 1820 to 1836 certainly possessed larger and more brilliantly-coloured flowers than their wild ancestors, but as regards the form of the flower no change was made, it being still more or less elongated in the same way as in the wild Viola tricolor, L., or V. lutea, Huds. During the latter half of the thirties, however, a change took place, as, dating from 1836, the first object of the British Pansy-raisers was to get the flowers as circular as possible (fig. 122). In The Floricultural Cabinet and Florists' Magazine of the above-mentioned year, this quality is described as more to be desired than all others, and but a couple of years elapsed before this ideal was attained. The magazine just mentioned of 1838 and 1839 contained several figures representing new varieties of Pansies, and among these we find at least two, viz., Ne Plus Ultra and J. Burley's Lord Durham, the flowers of which were almost perfectly circular. In the beginning of the forties the interest for Pansies rose to such a pitch that special horticultural societies were formed solely devoted to this plant.

The Hammersmith Heartsease Society held its first Pansy show in 1841, and continued them for a long course of years. At the present time (1893) it has been succeeded by a society having the same objects in view, called the London Pansy and Viola Society. In 1845 the Scottish Pansy Society was formed in Edinburgh, which has shown such vitality, that from that day till now it has continued its activity with great success. By these two Pansy-societies, formed in the forties, certain demands were made on the Pansy flowers, which were to be complied with before the flower could obtain a prize at the shows. The principal demands were:—

  1. The flowers should be circular.
  2. The petals should be even, thick, and velvety.
  3. The colour should be either uniform (selfs), or else but two (belted flowers).

But besides these, several other requirements were enumerated, and, curious to relate, these demands were fully realised in a large number of varieties raised at that time. Indeed, for about twenty years these show Pansies reigned almost supreme in Britain. All other varieties produced by the Pansy-raisers were discarded and ruthlessly destroyed.

* 1. Yellow-ground varieties: 2. White-ground varieties;
3. Yellow selfs; 4. White selfs; 5. Dark selfs.

The effects of this partiality in time, of course, became apparent. However interested the British public might be in the charming flowers of the forties, it must at last become evident that the numerous so-called new varieties continually appearing were, in fact, but a constant repetition of the five well-known types.* The need of a change in this respect began to be more and more obvious.

Salvation then came to this lovely English flower from France and Belgium in the form of an entirely new class of Pansies, viz., the so-called Belgian or fancy Pansies. Here we find just what is wanting in the show Pansy, viz., great variety of colouring, the brilliant colours being prevalent, and a distribution of colour not only according to the old well-known scheme, but also on a number of others that agreeably appeal to our inherent love of beauty.

In the early thirties the English Pansy was introduced into France, and was there cultivated by skilful horticulturists, who took great pains in further improving it. Among these Pansy-raisers let me mention Miellez of Lille, and James Odier, the owner of Bellevue Castle, near Paris. From the latter come the Odier Pansies, remarkable for the enormous development of the blotches on the three lower petals, which is so characteristic of the fancy Pansies of the present day, and specially for those belonging to the Cassier, Bugnot, and Trimardeau classes.

In Belgium they also strove to improve the English Pansies in the thirties, and partly in the same way as in France, without regard to the laws of beauty laid down in England.

The French fancy Pansies were brought before the English public in the early fifties by John Salter, but gained scarcely any approval. By the prejudiced English they were dubbed "French rubbish," and it was only in 1858 to 1860 that the interest of the British public was aroused by a whole series of brilliant French forms of Pansies chiefly imported from the florist previously mentioned, Miellez of Lille.

These fancy Pansies were cultivated by eminent horticulturists in the north of England and southern Scotland, where the centre of the cultivation of Pansies had been removed, in the latter half of the fifties, in consequence of a destructive disease which had laid waste numerous Pansy grounds in southern England. New and splendid forms were now raised in great numbers, more especially by the activity of William Dean of Shipley, and Downie, Laird and Laing of Edinburgh, and in time these Pansies became so general and popular, that in 1871 The Scottish Pansy Society decided to offer prizes for this class of Pansies at their shows. Special rules of beauty were fixed, which the judges had to follow when considering the several merits of the fancy Pansies on exhibition.

But now—as in former times with the English show Pansies—it happened that the limitations outside which it was deemed there could be no beauty, were far too narrow. The perfectly-circular form of the flowers was still one of the chief demands, the edges of the petals were to be without waviness or unevenness of any kind, and—most remarkable of all– no other Pansies than those provided with large blotches were entitled to a prize as fancy Pansies. This last rule has certainly greatly contributed to the fact that, in spite of their varying colours, the fancy Pansies have a tinge of monotony about them. The large dark blotch is seen everywhere, and in many cases this blotch is so large that it almost covers the entire surface of the flower (fig. 123). The general public has shown broader views in their ideal of beauty; and doubtless this is the cause why the fancy Pansies are being superseded by the far more unassuming but more natural bedding Pansies and the tufted Pansies or Violas.

Fig. 123.—A fancy pansy (Lorenz)


The bedding Pansies are characterised by flowers of a smaller size, but at the same time they flower Pansies, and have their lower growth and are more branched. By these peculiarities they are specially adapted for the production of numerous flowers, and make particularly pleasing beds, and it is from this fact they have their name. The original bedding Pansies were direct descendants of the fancy Pansies, and, as a general rule, bedding Pansies are but richly flowering, more dwarf-like fancy Pansies.

The tufted Pansies or Violas have essentially another origin. They are derived from the English Viola lutea, Huds, as also from the Pyrenean fragrant V. cornuta, L., both crossed with garden Pansies. Their characteristics are: a more perennial habit; a tufted growth; smaller flowers which are not circular, and generally spread an agreeable perfume. Cross-breeding has undoubtedly always played a great rôle in the production of new forms of Pansies, but in most cases without any plan, insects crossing varieties cultivated near each other. The horticulturists have simply made their selection among the numerous forms which have arisen as a result of this crossing performed by Nature herself. The tufted Pansies, on the other hand, have chiefly to thank for their existence Pansy-raisers, who themselves undertook the hybridisation. James Grieve of Edinburgh, in 1862 and 1863, crossed Viola lutea from the Scottish hills with the ordinary show Pansies of that time; and about the same time William Dean began working in a similar way in the north of England. From these and similar hybridisations not a few of the tufted Pansies are derived, more especially those in which yellow is the prevailing colour. Viola cornuta, L., has played a still more important part than V. lutea. Dating from 1863 it has been used by different Pansy-raisers for crossing with varieties of dark Pansies in particular. Thus, in 1867, Dicksons & Co. of Edinburgh produced the, relatively speaking, large flowering dark purple Vanguard, concerning which it is stated that it is derived from hybridising V. cornuta, as female, with a dark purple Pansy as male flower. About this time B. S. Williams of Holloway sent out his noted Viola cornuta Perfection, and somewhat later the fragrant Sensation. These and other hybrids of V. cornuta were afterwards used for further hybridisation with suitable Pansy varieties; and by these means—more especially thanks to Dicksons & Co. and to Dr. Charles Stuart, of Hillside—a considerable number of new varieties of tufted Pansies were raised in the seventies.

During the last two decades a most interesting kind of tufted Pansy has been raised, viz., the Rayless Violas, which have flowers of but one colour, free from the ordinary dark rays or streaks, whence their name. The first time I find any mention made of them is in 1881, when in The Garden W. Robinson related that at Laing's of Stanstead Park Nurseries, he saw two kinds of such Pansies (Hybrida alba and Golden Queen of Spring). Not until the very last years of the eighties did they become more widely known. Then appeared Charles Stuart's well-known Violetta, a very small-flowering almost pure-white fragrant tufted Pansy, the product of a cross between Viola cornuta, L, as the female parent, and the Pansy Blue King as the male plant. Dr. Stuart lays special stress on the fact that in hybridisation with V. cornuta it should be used as the female, and the Pansy chosen for the occasion as the male plant, if a progeny be desired resembling V. cornuta as regards perfume and perennial duration. Violetta has in turn produced a numerous offspring (among others, the celebrated Sylvia), which, together with other rayless tufted Pansies, play an important part in the shows of the Scottish and English Pansy societies. Besides the species of Violas already mentioned, in very rare cases Viola calcarata, L., has been used for the improvement of the Pansy.

* V. stricta, Hornem., belongs to the section Nomimium.

From Dicksons & Co., of Edinburgh, a statement has reached me that Viola stricta has been used for the same purpose (Ariel, stricta alba, Indiana, &c., are said to be derived from this species; but it is evident that this Viola stricta cannot be the Viola stricta of the botanists*). Dicksons & Co. declare that their Viola stricta is an Indian species. In consequence of this statement, I wrote to the author of the Flora of British India, Sir Joseph Hooker, concerning the matter, and in reply, he says, "There is certainly no Indian species remotely even allied to the cultivated Pansies."

It has been mentioned above that a double Pansy was known even to Parkinson, the old English writer on horticulture (1629). In the present century double Pansies have now and again made their appearance, among which the most known is probably Good Gracious, a variety which was cultivated largely in Ireland and Great Britain in the middle of our century, and "Lord Waverley" from the Hale Farm Nurseries, near London, in 1876.

Into Germany the English Pansies were introduced during the thirties, but it was not until the fifties and sixties that the German Pansy-raisers began to produce new varieties. As an instance, let me mention Negerfürst, the product in 1861 of careful selection made year after year by C. Schwanecke of Oschersleben, and Kaiser Wilhelm, introduced about 1872 by Chr. Lorenz of Erfurt. At the present day the German cultivation of Pansies ranks very high.

The northern limits of the Pansy is attained in Norway, where it has been cultivated with perfect success in several places in the arctic region, in East Finmark, at 69° or 70° N. latitude. V. B. Wittrock. (To be continued.

Gardeners' Chronicle 19: 754-755 (June 20, 1896)
A Contribution to the History of Pansies - 3


As the chief result of our investigations, we see that the Pansies of the present day form an aggregate of very different forms of plants produced by hybridisation between various species of the genus Viola (sect. Melanium). Their original stock was V. tricolor, L., but several other kindred species of Viola have been crossed thereon, and one among them, Viola lutea, Huds., to such a degree that it has probably had a larger share in the production of the Pansies of the present day than W. tricolor. Thus in their entirety they cannot exactly be compared to what in systematic botany is termed species or variety. They certainly should not be called by a name formed according to the rules of binary nomenclature. If a general Latin name seems desirable, I should propose Violae x hortenses grandiflorae, when “x" signifies the hybrid nature of the forms belonging hereto; the word “hortenses” that they are garden plants; and the word “grandiflorae,” that they are large-flowering; this to distinguish them from the small-flowering garden Violas of the type of Viola odorata, L.

On comparing the Pansies of the present day with their wild ancestors, we shall find that as regards form, the most conspicuous characteristic of the Pansy flower is that its cross diameter is almost the same as its long diameter, or that it is nearly circular, while in the parent species the flower is constantly much longer than it is broad. The large cross diameter of the Pansy flower is a consequence of an excessive development, more especially of the middle petals. It not unfrequently happens that these petals are the largest, which is never the case in the parent species.

* E.g., Cornuta Perfection and Ariel.

As regards the spur, the Pansies generally follow the short-spurred parent species, Viola tricolor, L., V. lutea, Huds., and V. altaica, Ker. Only a very few Pansies are long spurred,* these showing their descent from some of the long-spurred V. cornuta, L., V. calcarata, L. (or V. stricta, Dicksons & Co.).

† A couple of the very latest kinds, viz., Cardinal, in fiery-red,
and Victoria, in blood-red, are very near the mark.

In respect to colouring, Pansies show a far greater variety and wealth than all the parent species, whatever variety of colour a couple of these may present. There is scarcely any colour or shade—with the exception of green, which is so unusual a colour in flowers—that it is not represented in one variety of Pansy or the other. Selfs are white, yellow, red, violet, blue, brown, and black. The colours most difficult of production for the Pansy-raisers are pure blue and pure red. There are now, however, blue Pansies of several kinds. Clear reds in fiery-red and blood-red are still a desideratum.† Many-coloured Pansies, as is well known, exist of almost innumerable kinds. That which is common to nearly all of them —but is not found in the parent species of the Pansy—is the large dark blotch at the base of the three lower petals. These blotches are evidently derived from the dark rays of the wild ancestors of the Pansy.

Whatever variety of colour the Pansy may show, one part of the flower is always of the same colour, viz., the so-called eye, or that part of the lowest petal, which is immediately in front of the entrance to the spur. This eye, called by botanists the honey-guide, is always bright yellow, and is the same in all Pansies, even in selfs. This yellow spot, which is the guiding star to insects when visiting the flowers—which is of such great importance for the fertilisation—seems to have reached such a degree of resistance to all the changes of outer life that it will not give way to anything.

‡ Both as regards the colour of the eye and the spur,
the Pansies thus agree with Viola tricolor, L.

The same seems to be the case as regards the colour of the spur, as in all Pansies which I have had the opportunity of examining—even the pure white, pure yellow, &c.—the spur, at any rate towards the tip, is coloured with violet of a lighter or darker shade.‡ Why the violet colour so perseveringly remains through all circumstances on this limited spot, is not easy to explain. It is probable that it serves as a kind of protection for the honey contained in the upper part of the spur.

Finally, let us see what problems are still to be solved by the Pansy-raisers in the immediate future.

Foremost amongst these we must place the question of making the Pansies perennial instead of annual or biennial. A remarkable step in this direction has already been taken by the English and Scotch Pansy-raisers, who, with very good results, have used the perennial V. cornuta, L., for crossing with garden Pansies. Much, however, still remains to be done. Those species of Viola most suitable for Pansy hybridisation are undoubtedly V. calcarata, L., and V. altaica, Ker, as both have a very powerfully developed perennial stem, have large and beautiful flowers, and can both of them without any difficulty be cultivated in our gardens. Another species that deserves recognition is Viola latisepala, Wettstein, lately introduced into our gardens from the Balkan peninsula, a perennial species which, on being cultivated here, has evidently thriven remarkably well.

Next to obtaining perennial Pansies, we must place the aim of producing good varieties that come true from seed. In many places these attempts have been crowned with tolerable success, more especially in respect to the selfs; but very much still remains to be done.

No pains have been spared of late by the Pansy cultivators of Great Britain to increase the charm of the Pansy by obtaining perfume as well as beauty; but by a more extensive use of the odoriferous alpine species, Viola cornuta, L., and V. lutea, Huds., var. grandiflora (L.), Will, for hybridisation, doubtless much may still be done in this direction.

Probably in direct opposition to most Pansy-raisers, I consider it most desirable to obtain more variety as regards the form of the corolla of the Pansy. For sixty years the Pansy cultivators have almost unanimously endeavoured to make the corolla of the flower as circular as possible; and it is undeniable that the corolla type obtained by these means, and now reigning almost supreme, is beautiful—ay, very beautiful; but this fact does not prevent other forms of the corolla from being as attractive to the eye that has learnt to admire those products which Nature herself offers us.

As in a wild state Viola tricolor, L., produces pelorias both with and devoid of spurs, the raising of Pansies of a similar structure should not present insurmountable difficulties. A similar form has long been under cultivation from V. odorata, L. If, in addition to this, we remember the existing forms of the double Pansies which, by suitable cultivation, may doubtless be greatly improved, it seems to me that it is very probable that our gardens will be in time adorned with Pansies which give the impression of wealth and variety, not only as regards colour, but also in respect to form.

At all events, it may in truth be said that—even if only remembering what has already been done—the garden Pansies plainly prove what human intelligence, coupled with skilful perseverance, can perform in a department where it is a question of giving pleasure to millions by caring for, improving, and multiplying plastic forms of those lovely plants which Nature, even in the North, so generously offers us. Professor V. B. Wittrock, Stockholm.