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Sand Violet (Viola affinis)

Sand Violet (Viola affinis) is a herbaceous perennial that is found from the mid-west to the eastern United States and adjacent southern Canada. This plant is a host plant to fritillaries and a number of bees. These violets are acaulescent (lack a stem) and have light purple flowers with a large white striped center. They can be found growing in wet floodplains, shaded wooded slopes, and in open areas.

Taxonomic History of Sand Violet (Viola affinis)

Herbarium specimen of Sand Violet (Viola affinis).
Herbarium Specimen — Viola affinis LeConte collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0)

Taxonomy

Sand Violet (Viola affinis) was named and described by James Eatton Le Conte, an American botanist, in 1828. It has kept this name since, but has at some point been considered a subspecies or variety of Viola sororia. Whether a distinct species or not, this species can hybridize with the other making it difficult to identify. This plant is a member of the Violet Family (Violaceae).

Sand Violet Description and Alternative Names

Light purple flower with white center of Sand Violet
Sand Violet Flower — Rob Routledge, Sault College, Bugwood.org, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Description

Sand Violet is a herbaceous perennial that has a basal stem (acaulescent) and grows in 6 to 8 inch wide clumps on the ground. The alternate, simple, coarsely toothed leaves range from 3 to 6 inches in length and width.

The flowers are can be nearly white, blue to light to dark purple and have a large white center that has dark purple veins. It blooms in the spring around April to May. Like other violets, this species, has two flowers, one underground (Cleistogamous) and one above ground (Chasmogamous). The seeds are dispersed by ants in a process called myrmecochory, where the ants get a fat globule and in return the seeds get dispersed.

Alternative Names

This plant is also called Le Conte’s Violet, Leconte’s Violet, Pale Early Violet, Thinleaf Violet, and Small Blue Violet.

Range and Habitat

Floodplain forest in Delaware.
Floodplain Forest Habitat — Robert Coxe, Image

Range

Range map of Sand Violet (Viola affinis) in the United States and Canada.

This species is native to the eastern United States except for Delaware.

Habitat

Sand violet is found in moist forested flooplains and streambanks (Botanikim) and on shaded hillsides of coniferous forests (vPlants).

Insects and Other Wildlife it Supports

Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele) on a flower.
Great Spangled Fritillary — MONGO, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Mason Bee specimen
Mason bee, female (Megachilidae, Osmia subfasciata (Cresson)).USA, TX, Blanco Co.: Johnson City.10 K NW of Johnson City.30.32°N 98.44°W 355m 32°C aerial.Open field with flowers, slope to river.13.VI.2016 A. Santillana coll. #ASF530.det. J.L. Neff 2017

Host Species

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 Wildlife Value

Violets (Viola spp.) are important nectar plants for bees and other insects.

Interesting Facts

The genus name, Viola, is from the Latin name for “sweet-scented flowers.” (Missouri Botanical Garden). It is also known as a symbol of love (Wikipedia). The species name, affinis, means allied or related in Latin, referring to its similarity to other violets (alabamaplants.com).

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