Pansies (Viola x wittrockiana) are a favorite with home gardeners, in part, because of the wide range of available flower colors and patterns. Most pansies are hybridized, meaning they have been bred for specific colors and patterns. Today, pansies feature one or two colors in addition to the cream and black tat are often present. Pansies naturally appear in a smorgasbord of colors -- from pale apricot to vibrant mahogany, but this wasn't always the case.
Today's hybridized pansies all arose from a flower named Viola tricolor, which could be considered the "natural" pansy. The flower was nicknamed the "wild pansy" when it was first discovered back in the 5th century B.C., according to the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, but today it is more commonly known as a "Johnny-jump-up" or "Heartsease." These flowers have the distinctive "face" that graces many pansy cultivars. Each flower blooms in shades of yellow, purple and cream, with black spots and "whiskers."
The natural pansy (Viola tricolor) was soon crossed with Viola lutea and a blue species called Viola altaciacolors, eventually creating a flower that had large blocks of color on the lower petals. This species was named Viola x wittrockiana. The first cultivar was introduced in 1839 and was named Viola x wittrockiana "Medora." Ever since then, cultivars of Viola x willtrockiana have been extremely popular with professional and home gardeners alike. Today, there are so many cultivars, with so many different color combinations, that breeders have turned their attention to creating more heat-tolerant and longer-lasting flowers.
Pansies are cool-climate plants, but home gardeners in warmer climates often grow them as annuals. Most hybridized pansies thrive in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 8, and prefer full sun as long as the soil and temperatures are cool. Viola tricolor grows best in USDA zones 3 through 9. All pansies like soil that is rich and moist, but not waterlogged. Pluck the dead blooms from the flowers to encourage re-blooming and fuller growth.
Pansies are the perfect choice to replace summer flowers that are fading near the end of the August. Tuck them into containers, along borders or in hanging baskets to give your landscape a new burst of color that will last well into autumn and in some locations, even winter. To create a seasonal feel, choose pansies in warm fall colors such as orange, gold, deep red and rich purple.
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