Garden Pansy Winter blossoming ornamentals of edible value

Geeta Sharma, Ritika Jamwal
Different Viola×wittrockiana hybrids, generally named as garden pansies, are important ornamentals cultivated throughout India including Jammu and Kashmir. These hybrids capable of tolerating temperature down to single digit, are largely grown winter annuals of our union territory. Different varieties of garden pansy bearing large sized, beautiful and multicolored flowers are, in fact, the outcome of years of cross breeding experiments and many rounds of selections.
Wild pansy, (called Viola tricolor), one of the progenitors of garden pansy, is a tiny fragile plant differentiating small-sized tri-colored (purple, yellow and white with streaks) flowers measuring 2-3 inches and emitting mild flavour. Later species had been captivating European gardeners and flower-lovers since nineteenth century. Nevertheless, small floral size was major hindrance for promoting it for cultivation. For obtaining robust pansy plants bearing large-sized flowers, floriculturists initially adopted repeated selection procedure followed by domestication. Nevertheless, availability of different Viola species or forms having varying attractive colours and strong tendency of Viola species to hybridize, prompted gardeners to conduct hybridization experiments. First known Viola×wittrockiana hybrids, in fact were produced by Lord Gambier and William Thompson in 1888, by crossing V. tricolor with other wild relatives like V. lutea and. V. altaica. Subsequent hybridization experiments and selections performed by floriculturists all over the world over the years, has resulted in hundreds of varieties of Viola×wittrockiana which differentiate attractive flowers of different colours. These include red, purple, blue, bronze, pink, black, yellow, white, lavender, orange, apricot and mahogany. Besides, some varieties also differentiate bi-coloured flowers like red-purple, yellow-black, white-blue and yellow-red with or without blotches in place of streaks on plane/ruffled petals. Other quality traits of horticulture value possessed by these hybrids include scent emission, rapid growth, robustness, increased adaptability and high disease resistance. Owing to these qualities, Viola×wittrockiana hybrids are largely preferred for cultivating in pots, beds and border areas of gardens.
Pansies bear pentamerous flowers, each comprising of two slightly over-lapping upper petals, two side petals and single bottom petal, are one of the top selling and frequently cultivated winter blossoming ornamentals of Jammu province. They perform well in humus rich and well-drained soils in full sun to partly shaded regions. Grown generally as annuals, pansies are planted in fall. They exhibit vegetative growth and blooming in winters but succumb to heat of summers.
Fragrant and showy flowers of V×wittrockiana hybrids are also edible. Because of having bright color and emitting sweet-scented fragrance, they are used for decorating salads, fruit bowls and cakes in different parts of the world. Besides, they are also added to other culinary items like sauces, jellies, syrups, beverages and desserts for supplementing flavor, taste and visual appeal.
Compared to the other parts of world, pansy flowers are rarely used for culinary purpose in India, and particularly Jammu and Kashmir. One of the reasons for their underutilization is insufficient knowledge regarding the presence of important nutrients such as flavonoids, anthocyanins, vitamins, essential oils, tannins in adequate quantity in the varieties grown in our union territory. Information on these lines needs to be generated/gathered before recommending their utilization for culinary purpose in this region.
(The author are PI and Assistant Professor, Department of Botany, University of Jammu and research scholar in the department.)