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early blue violet (Viola palmata)




















cleft violet
early blue violet
early blue
wood violet


Viola falcata Greene
Viola stoneana House
Viola triloba Schwein.
Viola triloba Schwein. var. dilatata (Elliott) Brainerd
Viola triloba Schwein. var. triloba


CONFIRMATION STATUS: Pending confirmation.


TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name of early blue violet
is Viola palmata L. There has been considerable taxonomic discussion con-
cerning the species classification of Viola palmata and complete agreement
has yet to be reached. Many references works differentiate Viola palmata
from Viola triloba and Viola stoneana; both these species are now sub-
sumed within Viola palmata (they are listed above as synonyms). An excep-
tion is the USDA Plants Database, which lists Viola palmata as a hybrid of
other Violet species, Viola × palmata L. (pro sp.) [brittoniana or pedatifida × affinis or sororia.


Viola palmata has two generally recognized varieties: 1) palmata, and 2)
dilatata. While both varities may occur in Sky Meadows, the majority of
early blue violets are believed to be variety dilatata.


Variety dilatata is one of several violets with lobed leaves. In general, it is
less deeply lobed than Viola pedata (bird's foot violet) and Viola pedatifida
(prairie violet), but more strongly lobed than Viola sagittata (arrow-leaved
violet) and Viola fimbriatula (sand violet). Even for a single plant of early
blue violet, there can be significant variation on the number of lobes and
their depth for each leaf. The flowers of this species are quite similar in
appearance to those of other violets with blue-violet petals. Other common
names of Viola palmata are cleft violet and blue wood violet. A scientific
synonym for this species is Viola triloba dilatata. Where their ranges
overlap, this variety of early blue violet may intergrade with the typical
variety; the latter has fewer lobes on its leaves (usually 3 or none).


The most unusual characteristic of early blue violet is the highly variable
shape of its leaf blades. Three-lobed violet has been considered a separate
species in the past (known as Viola triloba), but it is now classified as the
typical variety of Viola palmata. It differs from Viola palmata variety
dilatata, by having leaf blades with either fewer lobes (3-5) or no lobes.
The latter variety, referred to here as the cleft violet, has leaf blades with
5-9 lobes and it never produces leaves without lobes. Both varieties occupy
similar habitats, although the cleft violet may prefer habitats that are
more rocky and barren.


NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States and Canada.




Habit: This perennial wildflower consists of a low rosette of basal leaves
spanning about 4-6" across, from which stalks of flowers develop directly
from the crown.


Leaves: The blades of the basal leaves are up to 2½" long and across; for
var. dilatata, they are usually divided into 5-7 palmate lobes. These lobes
are finger-like in shape, somewhat variable in size, and extend up to half-
way into the blade. Some of the larger lobes may be subdivided into smaller
lobes, and the margins of the leaf blade may have a few dentate teeth. The
upper surface of each leaf blade is medium to dark green and hairless, while
the lower surface is light green and hairy along the veins. The petiole of each
leaf is about as long as the blade and rather stout; it is conspicuously hairy
on the lower side.


Flowers: Individual flowers about ¾–1" across are borne at the apex of
ascending stalks that are as long or longer than the leaves. Each flower has
5 spreading petals that are deep blue-violet (2 upper, 2 lateral, and 1 lower),
and 5 sepals that are light green to purple. The 2 lateral petals have dense
white hairs (or beards) near the throat of the flower, while the lower petal
has a conspicuous patch of white with blue-violet veins. These petals con-
verge into a short nectar spur that is surrounded by the sepals. The sepals
are lanceolate-ovate and pubescent. The stalk of each flower is densely
covered with spreading white hairs; it is light green to deep purple, and
nods downward at the apex where the flower occurs.


Fruit/Seeds: Each fertile flower is replaced by an oblongoid capsule con-

taining many small brown seeds. When it is ripe, this capsule divides into

3 parts, mechanically ejecting the seeds several inches or feet from the

mother plant.


Roots: The rootstock consists of a short stout crown with fibrous roots


REGENERATION PROCESS: During the summer, inconspicuous
flowers are produced that are self-fertile; they are not pollinated by insects,
unlike the spring flowers. Each fertile flower is replaced by an oblongoid
capsule containing many small brown seeds. When it is ripe, this capsule
divides into 3 parts, mechanically ejecting the seeds several inches or feet
from the mother plant.


HABITAT TYPES: Habitats include dry rocky woodlands, wooded
upper slopes, and thinly wooded bluffs. Oak trees are often present at
these habitats. The early blue violet is normally found in higher quality
woodlands where the original ground flora is intact.


SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Early blue violet prefers full to partial
shade in dry mesic or rocky soil, often at higher wooded elevations.


SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: The blooming period occurs during
mid-spring to late spring and lasts about 2-3 weeks.


GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Early blue violet primarily occurs in
the eastern part of the United States, from Georgia north to Maine and
westward to the Ohio River Valley, only occassionally west of the Miss-
issippi River into Louisiana and Minnesota. It also occurs in Ontario,




IMPORTANCE AND USES: The flower nectar of violets attracts var-

ious bees (Andrenid bees, Mason bees, etc.), bee flies (Bombylius spp.),
butterflies, and skippers. The caterpillars of several Fritillary butterflies
and miscellaneous moths feed on the foliage of violets, as do the cater-
pillars of Ametastegia pallipes (violet sawfly), which skeletonize the
leaves. The insect Odontothrips pictipennis (Thrips spp.) sucks juices
from violets. The leaves and stems of violets are eaten to a limited extent
by the cottontail rabbit, eastern chipmunk, wild turkey, and ruffed grouse;
the seeds are eaten by the slate-colored junco.



Back to Inventory of Herb/Forb Families and Species

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