Thursday, May 26, 2011

Roses are Red, Violets are Blue and Yellow, Green & White too!

Violets.  One of most diverse and common species of early spring blooming plants found in just about every type of habitat and situation.  I have always been an admirer and appreciator of the little blue, irregular flowers in my front yard that are as unmistakable as that first true spring day.  Little did I know the Violet genus Viola was one of the more broad genera of Ohio plants and goes far beyond the common blue ones found amongst the grass outside my window.  I've really gone Violet crazy this spring, making it a highlight to observe and photograph as many species throughout the state as possible and I have to say I am quite pleased with my results!


Ohio is home to nearly 30 indigenous species of Violets and countless more naturally occurring hybrids, as well as several naturalized cultivars/exotics.  Some are extremely common such as the Common Blue Violet (V. sororia) while others are state listed as endangered like the Prairie Violet (V. pedatifida).  Believe it or not there is still quite a bit of debate amongst botanists and taxonomists today about just how many species of Violets are true individual species and which are merely variations of one another.  It's a tricky, mixed up world out there without the solidity of DNA research but this post is dedicated to bringing you over 20 species of native Ohio Violets and how to tell them apart.  Some are obvious and easy, others take some eyeballing and careful consideration.  So lean back in your ergonomic desk chair, put on your reading glasses and make yourself comfortable because this is going to be a long one, but worth it for those who want to discover the variety and beauty of our native Violas.

Viola sororia
Viola sororia






















It seems most appropriate to start off this avalanche of Violet species with easily the most common but not necessarily the easiest to identify.  This is the Common Blue Violet (V. sororia) which is found in just about every square inch of Ohio and many, many other states.  From peoples yards to woodland borders to dry prairies; this little guy will pop up just about anywhere.  Its leaves can vary from completely glabrous (smooth, no hair) to considerably pubescent (hairy).  The leaves can vary in size depending on the age of the plant and time of year but are usually heart-shaped with the base of the leaf commonly curling in at the petiole.  The flowers can range in shades of blue/violet to white with an assortment of mixing in-between.  The lateral (side) petals are bearded with long, slender hairs while the spurred petal (the bottom petal) is hairless or almost nearly so.  This feature comes in handy when this plant occurs in the same area of similar looking stemless blue violets and helps to differentiate them.

Viola rostrata
Viola rostrata






















This is another relatively common and very easy violet to identify, the Long-spurred Violet (V. rostrata).  Found growing in rich, moist woods especially in ravines and lower slopes.  It's easy to I.D. this species in the woods by its conspicuous long spur protruding from the back of the flower.  No other Ohio violet has such a long and obvious spur.  This is a stemmed blue violet, meaning the flowers arise off the same stalks as the leaves, while stemless blues have separate stalks from the plants leaves.  The Long-spurred Violet is also a rather unique shade of lavender and one of the most pretty despite its general abundance.

Viola pubescens
Viola pubescens






















This is another easy Violet to pick out for even the greenest of botanists or wildflower enthusiasts.  The Common Yellow Violet (V. pubescens) has small yellow flowers each streaked with black lines on the lateral and spurred petals with leaves that look quite similar to the aforementioned V. sororia.  Most botanists break this species down into two varieties, one being pubescent and the other glabrous.  Just to keep things simple I associate them as a single species.  There are a few other yellow flowered Violets in Ohio that look strikingly similar to this but all are uncommon/rare and quite local in their distribution while V. pubescens occurs in just about every county.

Viola striata
Viola striata






















We're on a roll with the most common and easy to ID violets thus far so let's keep it going with the Common White Striped Violet (V. striata).  This species can be found in every county of Ohio in low moist woodlands, streams banks and in wet fields/ditches.  The lateral and spurred petals show a handsome purplish/blue veining with heavy bearding on the lateral petals.  There are other species of white violets but none share the frequency or blue/purple veining of V. striata.

Viola canadensis
Viola canadensis






















This is in my opinion one of, if not the easiest of Ohio's violets to identify problem free.  No other violet found in our state is white with a golden yellow throat and black veining.  This striking bloom belongs to the Canada Violet (V. canadensis) which also has the honor of being the largest (stature of the plant) and most robust species in Ohio.  It's not uncommon to see these growing nearly two feet tall and rather 'bushy' in appearance in its eastern Ohio, rich woodland homes.

Viola blanda
Viola blanda






















From the largest of Ohio's violets to one of its smallest, this is one of my personal favorites, the Sweet White Violet (V. blanda).  Found predominately in the eastern half of the state in shaded, rocky ravines and slopes of moist deciduous and conifer forests, these tiny little beauties commonly grow on clumps of moss on rocks and boulders amongst the ferns and liverworts.  It's small size, distinctly red peduncle and black/dark red veining of the spurred petal all help to I.D. this diminutive little guy.

These first handful of species are among the most common and widely known species found in Ohio and are probably well known by most of you.  The rest of this post will discuss the more unusual, uncommon and rare species I've had the pleasure of coming across this spring.  I hope there are some surprises in here and you enjoy discovering a few new species you never knew existed!  Here we go!

Viola conspersa
Viola conspersa






















This is the American Dog Violet (V. conspersa).  How it got the common name of the 'dog' violet is beyond me so if anyone has a story or answer please feel free to share!  This uncommon violet resides predominately in the northeastern quarter of the state with a scattering of populations to the west and a couple disjunct populations in central Ohio.  Found in wet or moist woodlands and floodplains, it can be I.D.'ed quite easily by its noticeable spur (barely seen poking out the back of the flower on the picture to the right) and limey-green leaves. Something else worth noting is this is a stemmed blue violet; meaning the flower branches off from the same stalk as the leaves.  Due to the spur it could be confused with the Long-spurred Violet but the Dog Violet has a shorter spur that curves up and is not nearly as long.  Also the Dog Violet has bearded hairs on the lateral petals of the flower while Long-spurred Violet's petals are completely hairless.

Viola cucullata
Viola cucullata






















Next up is the Marsh Blue Violet (V. cucullata), a species which likes to 'keep its feet wet'.  Marsh Blue Violet is scattered throughout the eastern half of Ohio in marshes, swamps, bogs/fens and wet alluvial woods/fields.  It can be confused with other stemless blue violets but there are a couple distinct characteristics to look for.  The flowers arise on long, vertical peduncles that hang well above the ovate/deltoid shaped leaves.  Taking a look at the presence/lack of bearded petals can help for this species too.  V. cucullata has a beardless spurred petal while the lateral petals are bearded with thick, round-tipped hairs while other bearded violets have longer, more slender and pointed hairs.

Viola affinis
Viola affinis






















The Thin-leaved or LeConte's Violet can be one of the most difficult to distinguish amongst the rest of its stemless blue brethren.  Scattered throughout the state in moist woodlands, forest borders and openings, V. affinis's scientific epithet 'affinis' translates from the Latin word 'affini' meaning "related or allied", referring to its resemblance with other violets.  The best feature is its leaves, which gradually taper to a distinctly acute tip.  This and its generally wet habitat can help differentiate it from the others stemless blues.  Most similar to V. sororia (which some authors treat as varieties of one another) you can tell the difference by once again taking a look at the hairs on the lateral/spurred petals.  Both V. sororia and V. affinis have heavily bearded lateral petals but only V. affinis has a bearded spurred petal (not much but noticeable with a hand lens).  Feel free to take a break because this lengthy lesson isn't even half over!

Viola sagittata
Viola sagittata






















Another one of my favored violets is the Arrow-leaved Violet (V. sagittata).  Taking a look at the mature leaf on the right, it's not hard to imagine how this species got its common name.  V. sagittata grows in eastern Ohio's dry, open fields, prairies and woodland borders in early to mid spring.  The flowers are generally smaller than most stemless blue violets with both its lateral and spurred petals bearded.  The bloom also displays a distinct white colored center.  I have found several instances of this plant with a white flower variation that is quite striking with it's more noticeable dark blue veining.

Viola hirsutula
Viola hirsutula






















Here's a violet that can be I.D.'ed pretty quickly without even a passing glance at the flower.  This is the Southern Wood Violet (V. hirsutula), an uncommon species confined to the unglaciated Allegheny Plateau of southeastern Ohio.  The leaves are orbicular with slightly purplish veins and a uniquely distinct silvery pubescence on the top surface.  Underneath is purple in color with many dark spots scattered about.  The leaves become a bit more 'pointed' at their tip upon maturity with the purple veins becoming more prominent.

Viola triloba
Viola triloba






















This species can be one of the most frustrating and confusing to distinguish amongst Ohio's violets.  This is the Three-lobed Violet (V. triloba), but don't let the name fool you, its leaves can have up to five shallow lobes.  It can be easily confused and sometimes even associated with the Palmate-leaved Violet (V. palmata) which is more uncommon in Ohio than V. triloba.  Both species flowers look essentially the same so it comes down to the leaves.  This species is quite common throughout Ohio's dry upland forests.

Viola triloba
Viola triloba






















Even though V. palmata leaves start out looking the same as V. triloba early in the spring you can separate them by looking at the picture above left.  V. triloba often has unlobed, entire leaves mixed in with the others while V. palmata plants only exhibit all-lobed leaves.  The picture above left shows the lobed leaves with some unlobed persisting below, I.D.'ing this as V. triloba.  The plant photographed above right is a good example of Three-lobed Violet with its leaf showing off three distinct lobes beginning to develop.

Viola pedata (T)
Viola pedata (T)






















Arguably Ohio's showiest and most jaw dropping species of violet, the Birdfoot Violet (V. pedata) is a threatened species in Ohio and can only be found in two very disjunct areas: one in the extreme southern tip of Ohio as well as the northwest corner.  There is no mistaking this species as it has the largest individual flowers and highly dissected, palmate leaves.  Seeing a whole dry, rocky hillside covered in these gorgeous blooms come spring in Shawnee State Forest is a memorable sight and experience.

Viola pedatifida (E)
Viola pedatifida (E)






















This is one of Ohio's rarest violets and currently listed as endangered within the state, the Prairie Violet (V. pedatifida).  This rarity is only found in a select few dry, remnant prairies in central/west-central Ohio with these pictures coming from a population in the Pearl King Oak Savannah in Madison County (right) and Gallagher Fen in Champaign County (left).  This species can be very hard to tell apart from the nearly identical looking V. palmata.  The particular plant on the right has leaves that look essentially the same as V. palmata however the flowers lateral and spurred petals were distinctly bearded while V. palmata's spurred petal is glabrous to hardly bearded.  Also from what I can tell V. palmata is not known to exist in Madison County and this location has confirmed V. pedatifida.  The picture to the left is of a classic V. pedatifida leaf showing off the heavy dissection of the lobes and deep sinuses.

Viola sagittata x pedatifida
Viola x subsinuata






















Occuring within the remnant tall grass prairie savannah of Pearl King were a couple naturally occurring violet hybrids; both involving the state endangered Prairie Violet.  On the left is the crossing of the earlier mentioned Arrow-leaved Violet and Prairie Violet.  Both species were growing throughout the prairie and this species leaves show off its two parents.  The elongated, narrow aspect of the leaf comes from V. sagittata while the distinct lobes (something V. sagittata never does on its own) come from V. pedatifida.  On the right is the violet hybrid between V. pedatifida and V. sororia known as Viola x subsinuata or V. x bernardii.  Once again both species were found growing alongside one another and the leaves exemplify the cross.


If you've read this far, and I sincerely thank you for doing so, I hope you have a bit more in you as there are still six more species to go on this mega post on violets.

Viola walteri (T)
Viola walteri (T)






















This is another rare and state listed species of native Violet, Walter's Violet (V. walteri).  Listed as threatened in Ohio, it's only found in Adams, Highland and Ross counties where this species is at its northern distribution limit.  In fact, Ohio has some of most northerly population of this species.  This violet is pretty easy to I.D. by its very small, bluish flowers and stoloniferous habit of forming extensive mats as it creeps along the ground.  It grows in dry, open woodland openings/edges as well as roadsides (where these pictures were taken).  It is very closely related to the earlier mentioned Dog Violet and can be a bit of a pain to separate the two where their ranges overlap and only vegetative material is present.

Viola nephrophylla (E)
Viola nephrophylla (E)






















This species was a long-awaited acquaintance I got to experience just a few weeks ago and it was certainly worth the wait and attempt.  Northern Bog Violet (V. nephrophylla) is an endangered species in Ohio formally restricted to the wet, calcareous rocks and cliffs along Lake Erie and Kelley's Island.  In the past few years botanist/naturalist and my frequent botanical foray companion, Dan Boone discovered populations in several fen complexes in Champaign and Clark counties.  This is quite a big discovery for our state's flora and a chance to see this species in a different habitat than normally found within our state.  It's yet another stemless blue violet whose flower's lateral petals are heavily bearded with just a slight bearding on the spurred petal.  The leaves are also more thick, firm and succulent than those of other Ohio violets.  It grows in patches under full sun throughout the sedge meadows in its fen habitat.

Viola tripartita var. glaberrima (T)
Viola tripartita var. glaberrima (T)






















Remember I mentioned there were other yellow violets to be found in Ohio but they are considerably more rare?  Well this is one of them, the Wedge-leaved Violet (Viola tripartita var. glaberrima), a threatened species inside our state lines.  This southeasterly species barely crosses the Ohio River into the state and makes its stronghold in the depths of Shawnee State Forest.  It looks quite similar to V. pubescens and is probably commonly overlooked as simply being the very common yellow violet but there is a distinct difference in the leaves.  V. pubescens leaves are similar to V. sororia with the base of the leaf curling back.  The bases of the leaves of V. pubescens also curve back in towards the tip of the leaf at the petiole.  V. triparita var. glaberrima's leaves do not curl or curve back and instead meet at a single point on the petiole with no indentation or space, creating a 'wedge' look to the leaf.  The other variety to this species is the Three-parted Violet (V. tripartita var. tripartita).  The leaf for this species consists of three, lance-shaped leaflets instead of a single wedge-shaped lead.  This variety is believed to be extirpated from the state.

Viola lanceolata (PT)
Viola lanceolata (PT)






















This is one of the most unique and separable of Ohio's violets, the Lance-leaved Violet (V. lanceolata).  A species of concern in Ohio, it's easily distinguishable by its narrow to broadly lanceolate leaves.  The flower itself is also characteristic and unique and quite the charmer.  The pure white flower's throat is stained a yellowish-green color with dark red veining down the spurred petal.  This species prefers sandy, acidic soil near streams and ponds.  This particular clump was found growing right out of a coal slump, quite the acidic environment.

Viola rafinesquii

Everyone is familiar with the commonly used Pansy for home flower gardens and flower pots but did you know Ohio has a native species of Pansy?  This is the Wild or Field Pansy (V. rafinesquii), found growing in dry fields, pastures, cemeteries and roadsides of the southern half of Ohio.  A pretty little flower that deserves its place among the rest of the violet species.

Hybanthus concolor
Hybanthus concolor






















Finally!  This is the last species I wanted to discuss and I saved the weirdest and most unique for last.  This is the Green Violet (Hybanthus concolor) which belongs to a different genus than that of the regular violets.   The tiny, green flowers hang from the stem  in axillary clusters of 1-3 inflorescence(s).  Most would never guess this is a member of Violaceae.  What makes this so?  The seed capsule, while larger, is very similar to those of other violets in that they divide into three longitudinal sections for seed dispersal.  Taking a closer look at the minute flowers you can see a slight resemblance to other violet flowers as well.


Well, it's taken me quite some time to put this whole thing together and I really hope you enjoy it, despite its length and sheer number of different species.  I absolutely love the violets and think it's important to be able to distinguish the species apart and not just think in terms of color.  Calling them a "blue", "yellow" or "white" violet isn't good enough for me.  Each has their own unique characteristic that sets them apart from their brethren and it'd be a shame to overlook that aspect.  For those who made it all the way down to the bottom I thank you for your dedication and interest and I think you deserve a prize for your tenacity!

7 comments:

  1. Thanks for this great tutorial! I will probably never find at least half of these, but I love learning about them. You asked about the Dog Violet, and I think that the stipule being sharply toothed may have relevance to its name. Also, the fact that it is a "stemmed" violet, with both flowers and leaves growing from the same stem, really helps to ID it. Same for the Cream and Canada violets, which are also stemmed violets. Also,an important aid to IDing the Canada is the presence of a purple tinge on the back of the petals and on the buds. But violets can drive you nuts. Good thing they're all so beautiful.

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  2. Like it?..I love it..you were not kidding when you said you had shot a lot of species..very cool.

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  3. Very well done, Andrew. Stumbled upon an acidic sedge meadow during work last week where I found dozens and dozens of my first look at N. bog violet. I'm looking forward to seeing more bloomers out here and will post as they come. Great post!

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  4. cool info and photos. I want to paint these littl beauties now!
    KAT

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  5. Great post but no Halberd-leaved or Round-leaved violets? Halberd-leaved is one of my favorites.

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  6. Sorry, Keith. I never made it up to NE Ohio in the spring so I missed out on those two yellow beauties. I've never seen either in person before but I love the Halberd's leaves!

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  7. I'd be interested to know which of these are edible and which are not. I believe the purple violets are edible but am not sure about the others. Somewhere I heard that white violets are also ok to eat (or make violet jelly with) but that yellow ones can cause gastrointestinal problems.

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