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A Comprehensive Guide to Marsh Blue Violet (Viola cucullata)

Marsh Blue Violet (Viola cucullata) is a herbaceous perennial that is native to the eastern United States and Canada. This plant is a host plant to fritillaries and a number of bees. It is part of the stemless violets and the flowers range from white, lavender, or blue-violet in color. They can be found growing in moist open areas such as meadows, water edges, and fields.

Taxonomy and Naming of Marsh Blue Violet (Viola cucullata)

Herbarium specimen of marsh blue violet (Viola cucullata).
Herbarium Specimen — Viola cucullata Aiton collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC Y 4.0)
Holotype specimen of marsh blue violet (Viola cucullata).
Holotype Specimen — “BM000617463” – Viola cucullata Aiton collected in United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland by The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London (licensed under CC BY 4.0)

Taxonomy

Marsh Blue Violet (Viola cucullata) was named and described by William Aiton, a Scottish botanist, in 1789. It has kept the same name since. This plant is a member of the Violet Family (Violaceae).

Synonyms

  • Viola obliqua
  • Viola cucullata var. microtitis

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). The genus name also derives from the color violet (Online Etymology Dictionary). The species name, cucullata, mean having a “hood” (Wordsense Dictionary) presumably describing the flower.

Common Name and Alternative Names

The common name generally describes the habitat of the plant. Other common names, are also descriptive of the habitat and include blue marsh violet, wetland blue violet, thin-leaf wood violet (Gardenia), and Bog Violet (NC State Extension). Others describe the flower and include thin-leaf wood violet and purple violet.

Physical Description of Marsh Blue Violet (Viola cucullata)

Plant of marsh blue violet (Viola cucullata) in a garden.
Marsh Blue Violet (Viola cucullata) — Robert Coxe, Image

Description

  • Plant Type: Herbaceous perennial
  • Height: This plant is stemless and grows in clump about 6 to 8 inches high and 10 inches wide.
  • Leaves: The leaves are basal and are alternate and simple with entire to crenate-serrate margins. They range from 1-4 inches in length and about 1 to 3 inches wide.
  • Flower Color: The flowers are white, lavender, or blue-violet.
  • Blooming Period: This violet blooms from April to June and is one of the first in the spring.
  • Fruit Type and Period: Like all violets, this species has a capsule which matures in the summer.

Range Map of Marsh Blue Violet (Viola cucullata) in the United States and Canada

Range Map of Marsh Blue Violet (Viola cucullata) 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 from the eastern mid-west to the eastern United States. It is also found in Ontario and eastern Canada. It is not considered rare in any part of its range.

Habitat

Meadow Habitat in Massachusetts.
Field Habitat — Daderot, CC0 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Marsh Blue Violet grows open areas that are moist such as meadows, prairies in the mid-west, water edges, and fields. It can grow in full sun to part shade.

Hosted Insects

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

Violets (Viola spp.) are hosts to a number of fritillary butterflies. Sand Violet is not a host to specific species, but most fritillaries will use it.

Other Supported Wildlife

House sparrow on log.
House Sparrow — Mathias Appel, CC0 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Violets (Viola spp.) are important nectar plants for bees and other insects. Birds and mammals like to eat the seeds or browse the foliage. Marsh blue violet, in particular, supports Andrena bees.

Frequently Asked Questions about Marsh Blue Violet (Viola cucullata)

Is this violet poisonous?

According to the NC Extension Gardener, this violet is not poisonous. The leaves can actually be used in salads.

Are there are medicinal uses of this plant?

According to the Native American Ethnobotany Database, this species has been used by Native Americans as a painkiller, for skin diseases, and for respiratory diseases. It has also been for cancer treatment (NC Extension Gardener).

What other things are good to know about this violet?

This species is the provincial flower of New Brunswick in Canada and is the official flower of a sorority (Sigma Sigma Sigma) and a fraternity (Sigma Phi Epsilon) (Wikipedia).

What other violets are similar to this species?

This violet is similar to the common blue violet (Viola sororia), but while Viola cucullata has knobbed lateral petals, Viola sororia does not (Steyermark 1940).

Gardening with Marsh Blue Violet (Viola cucullata)

Plant of marsh blue violet (Viola cucullata) in a garden.
Plant of March Blue Violet (Viola cucullata) — Author Image

Hardiness

This species is hardy in zones 3-7. If your garden is within these zones and you have the right exposure and soil, 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.

Cultivars

  • ‘Red Giant’ : This cultivar has rose-red flowers. This cultivar can be of either Viola odorata or Viola cucullata (Missouri Botanical Garden).
  • ‘Striata Alba’ : This cultivar has white flower and purple veins. This cultivar also blooms into the summer.
  • ‘White Czar’ : This cultivar has white flowers with cream throats and purple veins (NC Extension Gardener).

Optimal Conditions

This violet likes soils that are moist and are in full sun, part-shade, or almost full shade. It does well in gardens and open areas such as fields.

References

  • Steyermark, Julian. 1940. Viola cucullata in Missouri. Rhodora 42: 199-200.
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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.

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