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A Comprehensive Guide to Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia)

Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia) is a herbaceous perennial that is found in the mid-western and eastern United States and a number of provinces in Canada, except the far west. This plant is a host plant to a species of butterfly and a number of bees. The purple flowers are often encountered in lawns, but are also a common woodland flower. Violets (Viola spp.) are hosts to a number of fritillary butterflies.

Taxonomy and Naming of Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia)

Herbarium specimen of common blue violet (Viola sororia).
Herbarium Specimen — Viola sororia Willd. collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0)
Holotype specimen of common blue violet (Viola sororia).
Holotype of Common Blue Violet — Viola floridana Brainerd collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0)

Taxonomy

Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia) was first named and described by Carl Ludwig Willdenow, a German Botanist in 1809. It has kept this name since, but for a long time this species was considered Viola papilionacea, a name given by Frederick Traugott Pursh, a German-American botanist in 1813. However, since V. sororia was named first it is the correct name according to botanical nomenclature rules. This plant is a member of the Violet Family (Violaceae).

Synonyms (from BONAP)

  • Viola latiuscula
  • Viola floridana
  • Viola papilionacea
  • Viola priceana
  • Viola palmata var. sororia
  • Viola papilionacea var. priceana

Meaning of the Scientific and Common Names

Scientific Name

The genus name, Viola, is from the Latin name for “sweet-scented flowers.” (Missouri Botanical Garden).

Common Name and Alternative Names

The common name describes the abundant nature of this violet. Other alternative names describe the color such as purple violet and woolly blue violet. Some describe the habitat and include wood violet and meadow blue violet and one describes the flower, hooded violet.

Physical Description

Plant of common blue violet (Viola sororia) in a garden.
Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia) — Robert Coxe, Image

Description

  • Plant Type: Herbaceous perennial
  • Height: about 6 inches, plant stemless (acaulescent) and spreads out in a clump.
  • Leaves: alternate, simple, crenate (sometimes serrate) 3 to 6 inches in length and width, the leaves can appear waxy, glossy, or woolly
  • Flower color: purple, pink, blue or white with a white center, some varieties can be freckled with white and blue
  • Blooming period: March to May depending on location
  • Fruiting type and period: capsule that matures in the late spring to summer

Violets have two flowers, one underground (Cleistogamous) and one above ground (Chasmogamous). The above describes the flower that is above ground.

Range of Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia) in the United States and Canada

Range map of Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia) in the United States and Canada.
Range Map Credit: Kartesz, J.T., The Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2015. North American Plant Atlas. (https://bonap.net/napa). Chapel Hill, N.C. [maps generated from Kartesz, J.T. 2015. Floristic Synthesis of North America, Version 1.0. Biota of North America Program (BONAP). (in press)].

This species is native in the mid-west and eastern United States. In Canada, it is found in most of the eastern Provinces and the Northwest Territories. It is considered rare in Saskatchewan.

Habitat

Garden Habitat — JohnDziak, CC0 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Common blue violet is very adaptable and is found in a lot of different habitats such as wooded areas, lawns, gardens, roadsides, and fields.

Hosted Insects

Great spangled fritillary (Speyeria cybele) on butterfly weed.
Great Spangled Fritillary — MONGO, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Violets (Viola spp.) are hosts to a number of fritillary butterflies. The common blue violet in particular is a host to the Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele).

Other Supported Wildlife

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

The common blue violet is an important nectar plant in the spring for a number of bees including Mason Bees, Halictid Bees, and Mining Bees (Wikipedia).

Interesting Facts

  • Violets are known as the symbol of love (Wikipedia).
  • Common blue violet (Viola sororia) is the state flower of four US states (Illinois, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Wisconsin).

Gardening with Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia)

Area of common blue violet (Viola sororia) in a garden.
Area of Common Blue Violet — Robert Coxe, Image

Hardiness

Common blue violet is hardy in zones 3-7. If your garden is within these zones, you can grow it even if you are not within the native range and have the right soil, moisture, and sun exposure. In some cases, if you are a distance from the native range, it may not host any species, if they are not in the same area.

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