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Canada Violet (Viola canadensis), A Comprehensive Guide in 10 Sections


Canada Violet (Viola canadensis) is a herbaceous perennial that is found throughout the United States and most of Canada except for the extreme north. This plant is a host plant to a species of butterfly and a number of bees. The white flowers are often encountered in shaded lawns and gardens, but it is also in floodplains. Violets (Viola spp.), in general, are hosts to a number of fritillary butterflies.

Taxonomy and Naming of Canada Violet (Viola canadensis)

Herbarium specimen of Canada violet (Viola canadensis).
Herbarium Specimen — Viola canadensis L. collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0)
Type specimen of Canada violet (Viola canadensis).
Type Specimen — “BM000617589” – Viola canadensis L. collected in United States of America by The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London (licensed under CC BY 4.0)


Canada Violet (Viola canadensis) was first named and described by Carl von Linnaeus, in Species Plantarum in 1753. It has kept this name since. This plant is a member of the Violet Family (Violaceae).

Varieties of Canada Violet

  • V. c. var. canadensis:
    • Synonym = V. canadensis var. corymbosa
  • V. c. var. rugulosa: this variety has broad leaves that are wider than long, which is separates it from var. canadensis (Spotts 1939). The petals are completely purple-tinged on the back and grows in sandy soil (Russell 1965).
    • Synonyms = V. rydbergii, V. rugulosa, V. canadensis ssp. rydbergii
  • V. c. var. scariosa: this variety has a underground stoloniferous rhizome, whereas var. canadensis does not (Weber 1989).
  • V. c. var. scopulorum: the leaves in this variety are longer than wide and it is a plant of dry locations (Weber 1989).
    • Synonym = V. scopulorum

Meaning of Scientific and Common Names

Scientific Name

The genus, Viola, is from the Latin name for “sweet-scented flowers” (Missouri Botanical Garden). The name also derives from the color violet (Online Etymology Dictionary). The species names, canadensis, comes from the where the species was found.

Common Names and Alternative Names

The common name like the species name describes where the species was originally found. Other alternative names such as Canadian white violet, white violet, and tall white violet, describe the color of the flowers.

Physical Description

Close-up of Canada violet (Viola canadensis) flower.
White Flower of Canada Violet — Joshua Mayer, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


  • Plant Type: Herbaceous perennial
  • Height: This violet is one of the stemmed violets and reaches about 1 to 2 feet in height.
  • Leaves: The leaves are alternate, simple, crenate, heart-shaped and range from 3 to 6 inches in length and 1 to 3 inches in width. The texture of the leaves can appear to be waxy, glossy, or woolly.
  • Flower color: white with a purplish-tinge
  • Blooming period: March to October (depending on variety and location) – Like other violets, this species, has two flowers, one underground (Cleistogamous) and one above ground (Chasmogamous).
  • Fruit type and period: This plant has a capsule that matures in the summer.

Range of Canada Violet (Viola canadensis) in the United States and Canada

Range Map of Canada Violet (Viola canadensis) in the United States and Canada.

This variety is native to the eastern United States and northeastern Canada. It is considered to be rare in the states of Arkansas, Alabama, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Maine. In Canada it is rare in the provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Range Map of Canada Violet (Viola canadensis var. scariosa).

This variety is only found in the state of Arizona.

Range Map of Canada Violet (Viola canadensis var. scopulurum).

This variety is found in the western and southwestern United States in the states of Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico.

Range Map of Western Canada White Violet (Viola canadensis var. rugulosa).

This variety is perhaps the most widespread and is found in the midwestern and northwestern United States and Alaska and in southern and northwestern Canada. It is considered rare in the states of Illinois and Oregon and in the provinces of the Yukon and Northwest Territories.


Garden habitat in Pennsylvania.
Garden Habitat — JohnDziak, CC0 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Canada Violet is found in open areas that have some shade to heavy shade such as gardens, lawns, and rich mesic floodplains. Variety scariosa, found in Arizona, is generally found in dry areas.

Hosted Insects

Atlantis fritillary (Speyeria atlantis) on a yellow flower.
Atlantis Fritillary (Speyeria atlantis) — Ryan Hodnett, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Violets (Viola spp.) are hosts to a number of fritillary butterflies. This violet, in particular, is a host to the Atlantis Fritillary (Speyeria atlantis).

Other Supported Wildlife

Mason Bee on black background.
Mason Bee — Insects Unlocked, CC0 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Like most members of the genus, this violet is an important nectar plant in the spring for a number of bees including Mason Bees, Halictid Bees, and Mining Bees (NC State Extension).

Frequently Asked Questions

What other violets are similar to this violet?

This violet is similar in appearance to the striped cream violet (Viola striata) and the pubescent yellow violet (Viola pubescens). However, the former has creamy colored petals and the latter has yellow flowers. Both of these violets, as well as all violets can have white forms, but Canada violet differs from both of them by the fact that it does not have fringed or lobed stipules and by being stemmed.

Is this violet invasive?

This violet is often found in lawns and can readily spread by seed. Because of this it can likely be considered to be invasive. However, it can be controlled.

Is Canada Violet deer resistant?

This violet is considered to be resistant to browsing by deer (NC Extension Gardener).

Does this plant have any Native American uses?

According to the North American Ethnobotany Database this plant was used as a pain reliever.

Gardening with Canada Violet (Viola canadensis)

White flowers of Canada violet (Viola canadensis).
Flowers of Canada Violet — Nicholas A. Tonelli from Northeast Pennsylvania, USA, CC0 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons


This species is hardy in zones 3-8. If your garden is within these zones and you have some shade, it is likely that this species will grow in it. However, outside of the native range you may not have the pollinator relationships if the pollinators are not also there.

Optimal Conditions

This species grows best in places with shade, but can generally grow in any soil condition. It can have an invasive habit, so it needs to be kept up with so that it does get out of control.


  • Russell, Norman H. 1965. Violets (Viola) of Central and Eastern United States: An Introductory Survey. Sida 2: 1-113.
  • Spotts, Alice Marial. 1939. The Violets of Colorado. Madrono 5: 16-27.
  • Weber, William A. 1989. Additions to the Flora of Colorado – XII. Phytologia 67: 429-437.
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Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe is a professional ecologist and botanist who has worked as the State Ecologist of Delaware and as an ecologist for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. He is also a former Past-President of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science. He currently is an innkeeper at McMullen House Bed & Breakfast LLC and a web designer and owner for Silphium Design LLC.