Canada Violet is a native erect perennial forb, growing 8 to 16 inches tall on stems that are slightly angular, green, and smooth to having very fine hair.
The leaves are of two types: Large, heart shaped basal leaves on long stalks and smaller stem leaves that are alternate on the stem. Stalks of basal leaves have hair when young. The stem leaves are also with heart-shaped bases and pointed tips. Both types have a distinctive palmate vein pattern, and margins that have crenations resembling coarse teeth. The underside is usually free of hair except if is the var. rugulosa. At the base of the leaf stalk of the stem leaves are are pair of stipules, linear in shape, without teeth.
Inflorescence: Flower stalks spring from the stem leaf axils, not from the base, as this violet has an above ground flowering stem, not a scape (a flowering stem that rises from the rhizome). Flowers are solitary, but several flower stalks may rise from the axils.
Flowers: Individual flowers are fragrant, 5-parted and average 1-1/4 inches wide. The flower stalks usually have short fine hair as does the attached green calyx with its 5 long pointed lanceolate shaped spreading green sepals. The corolla has five white to pinkish petals can have a pink to violet tinge on the back side, especially the upper two petals. The inside base of the petals have yellow tinting and the 3 lower petals have purple veins serving as nectar guides. The two side petals also have small whitish beards, set against the yellow area. Petals have rounded tips and are much larger than the sepals. The five stamens have greenish filaments wrapped around the pistil, anthers are light yellow and attached lengthwise to the filaments. The upper part of the pistil is also sparsely bearded as it attaches to the style. Flowers that fertilize in bud (cleistogamous) appear later in the summer.
Seed: The fruit is an elliptic to oval initially green 3-valved capsule covered with short fine hair. At maturity it is brown and splits explosively, ejecting small brownish seeds.
Varieties: There are two. Leaves and flowers are about the same: Viola canadensis L. var. rugulosa, has a similar looking flower but with more hair on the stem and on the underside of leaves and the leaves are wider than long. This is the common Canada Violet found in Minnesota. The other variety is var. canadensis which is found in states and provinces east of Minnesota. That plant may have some fine hair, but is generally smooth.
Habitat: Canada Violet grows from short thick rootstocks which frequently have slender stolons which allows it to spread forming colonies. The plant requires moderate moisture levels and some summer shade so it is found along the woodland edges, thickets, river banks and damp meadows. Its long blooming period, makes it likely that you will see this flower on a spring visit.
Names: The genus Viola is the Latin name for various sweet-scented flowers. The species canadensis means 'of Canada'. The author name for the plant classification, 'L.' is for Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy.
Comparisons: The main distinguishing difference between V. canadensis and the many other common white violets is that the flowers of V. canadensis rise from the upper leaf axils and not directly from the roots.
Above: The flowers are held above the leaves on stems that rise from the upper leaf axils. Drawing of var. rugulosa from Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An Illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.
Below: The flower has a distinctive yellow base to the petals (1st photo). The distinctive large leaves with heart-shaped base (2nd photo).
Below: The flower stem emerges from the upper leaf axil (1st photo). The distinctive purple tinge on the back of the petals and the long narrow spreading sepals 2nd photo).
Below: The pair of stipules at the base of the lead stalk of the stem leaf (1st photo). The underside of the leaf of var. rugulosa has fine hair on all the veins. (2nd photo)
Below: The ovoid shape fruit capsule.
Notes: Eloise Butler's records show that she introduced Canada Violet to the Garden when she obtained plants of this species on May 10, 1908 from Mound, MN. and again on May 6, 1913 from the Fort Snelling area (near Minneapolis). Also, on May 8, 1914 she reported planting 300 of the variety rugulosa that she obtained from the river bank near Ft. Snelling in Minneapolis, another 19 in Oct. 1920 same source. It is likely that all the plants from all years were var. rugulosa as that is the native found in Minnesota. Martha Crone made one note of planting it in 1946 and V. canadensis was listed on her 1951 census of plants in the Garden and is quite common today in the Garden. Canada Violet is common in the Minnesota woods and native to most counties except a few in the south-central part of the state and a few north central. As the name implies, this violet is found throughout Canada and then most of the U.S. except a few of the more dry central states, and Florida, Nevada and California.
Varieties: Viola canadensis L. var. rugulosa, is the type native to Minnesota per the DNR and the U of M Herbarium. It is one of 18 native violets found in the State.
Eloise Butler wrote extensively about violets - Read her notes.
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"