downy yellow violet (Viola pubescens)
smooth yellow violet
yellow forest violet
Viola eriocarpa Schwein.
Viola eriocarpa Schwein. f. leiocarpa (Fernald & Wiegand) Deam
Viola eriocarpa Schwein. var. leiocarpa Fernald & Wiegand
Viola pensylvanica Michx. var. leiocarpa (Fernald & Wiegand) Fernald
Viola pubescens Aiton var. eriocarpa (Schwein.) N.H.Russell, non Nutt.
Viola pubescens Aiton var. scabriuscula Schwein. ex Torr. & A.Gray f.
leiocarpa (Fernald & Wiegand) Farw.
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Pending confirmation.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name of downy yellow
violet is Viola pubescens Aiton. There has much debate about the status of
Viola pubescens in relation to other Viola species. Formerly Viola eriocarpa
and Viola pensylvanica were considered separate species; now they are
considered simply variations of Viola pubescnes. However, many botani-
cal manuals and field guides still have them listed separately.
There are two varieties of Viola pubescens: 1) pubescens, and 2)
scabriuscula. The leaves of variety pubescens have 15–23 teeth on each
side, while the leaves of variety scabriuscula have 8–15 teeth on each side.
Many specimens observed in Sky Meadows are scabriuscula; variety
pubescens may also be present.
NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States and Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:
Habit: This native perennial plant consists of a small rosette of basal
leaves (usually 3 or more), from which one or more stems up to 1' long
may develop. These stems are hairless, finely pubescent, or somewhat
Leaves: The blade of each basal leaf is up to 3" long and 2½" across; at its
base, there is a stout petiole up to 3" long. The petioles can be hairless or
hairy. The basal leaves are orbicular-cordate or oval-cordate, crenate-
dentate along the margins, and palmately veined. For variety scabriuscula
of this species, each margin of a leaf (whether left or right) has a total of
16-18 teeth. This variety of Viola pubescens has less hairy leaves than the
typical variety; the upper surface of each leaf is usually hairless, while the
lower surface may have a few hairs along the major veins. The cauline leaves
alternate along the stems; they are similar to the basal leaves, but smaller in
size. There is a fairly large stipule where the base of a petiole joins the stem;
this stipule is lanceolate-ovate.
Flowers: The flowers develop from the axils of the cauline leaves; they do
not occur on separate stalks from the rootstock. Each flower is about ¾"
across, consisting of 5 rounded yellow petals and 5 light green sepals. The
beardless lower petal has prominent purple veins toward its base. Each of
the 2 lateral petals has a beard at its base consisting of a small tuft of white
hairs; sometimes there are a few purple veins outside of each beard. The 2
upper petals are beardless and they usually lack any darker veins. Each
flower occurs at the apex of an individual stalk that is as long as the leaves;
this stalk nods downward at its apex, causing the flower to face outward
from the stem. There is no noticeable floral scent. Later, cleistogamous
flowers are produced that lack petals; they can produce fertile seed with-
out insect pollination.
Fruit/Seeds: Each fertile flower is replaced by a tripartite cluster of
spreading seed capsules; each seed capsule is elongated and pointed at
its tip. These seed capsules eventually turn brown and split apart; they
can eject the seeds several inches from the mother plant. Each small seed
is globoid and brown.
Roots: The root system consists of scaly rhizomes, which can form vegeta-
tive offsets. This plant occasionally forms colonies.
REGENERATION PROCESS: Downy yellow violet propogates itself by
reseeding and vegetative spread through rhizomes.
HABITAT TYPES: Habitats include moist to mesic deciduous wood-
lands, woodland borders, thickets, and along stream banks; rarely in the
open. Unlike Viola pratincola (common blue violet), it is not often ob-
served in yards and other disturbed areas.
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Downy yellow violet prefers light shade to
partial sun, moist to mesic conditions, and a rich loamy soil with abundant
organic matter. Medium shade is tolerated later in the year after the trees
develop their leaves. The foliage is little bothered by disease.
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: The blooming period occurs from mid-
to late spring and lasts about a month.
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Downy yellow violet is a species that ex-
tends from the Atlantic east coast (excepting Florida), westward to the
Great Plains states and north to Manitoba. It has been reported in Quebec
and Ontario, but not the maritime provinces. It does not naturally occur
in the far southwest states, Rocky Mountain states, northern Canadian
prairie provinces, the far west or Pacific northwest.
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION: To be determined.
IMPORTANCE AND USES: The nectar and pollen of the flowers
attract primarily bees, including little carpenter bees, mason bees,
cuckoo bees (Nomadine), miner bees (Eucerine), Anthophorine bees,
Halictid bees, and Andrenid bees. Less common insect visitors include
Bombylius major (giant bee fly), small butterflies and skippers, and
Syrphid flies. Syrphid flies feed on pollen and are non-pollinating. The
caterpillars of several Fritillary butterflies and moths feed on the foliage
of Violet spp. (Violets). The seeds are eaten in limited amounts by the
slate-colored junco and various upland gamebirds, including the ruffed
grouse, bobwhite, wild turkey, and mourning dove. Both the cottontail
rabbit and white-tailed deer have been known to feed on the foliage of
Violets, but this is rather uncommon.
Native Americans used an infusion made from yellow violet to treat coughs,
colds, and dysentery; a poultice of leaves for headaches; and soaked corn
seeds in an infusion of the roots prior to planting to ward off insects.
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