Selkirk’s Violet | Violette de Selkirk
Viola selkirkii Pursh
is rather sparse in this region. It was collected near Chelsea in 1906 and I collected it three times in Gatineau Park in 1967 and 1968. On the Ontario side of the river we have old collections from Ottawa, Carleton Place, Moose Creek, Carp, and recently Albert Dugal collected it from South Gloucester.
Selkirk’s Violet has slender underground stems but no stolons. Leaves are hairless below and slightly hairy above. The leaf blades are 1.5–4.5 cm broad, broadly oval with a heart-shaped base; the basal lobes often obscure the gap between them. Flowers are pale violet, about 2 cm in diameter. The petals are beardless and the spur is 5–7 mm long, as long as the blade of the spurred petal. Cleistogamous flowers are borne on ascending stalks. The capsule is almost round and purple-dotted. This is a plant of cool, rich woods and ravines, often in calcareous regions. It flowers from mid-April (but not in 1996!) throughout May but is visible and recognizable throughout the summer. (This species is also known as the Great Spurred Violet, not to be confused with the Long-spurred Violet, Viola rostratd).
Note: Image courtesy of USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. Vol. 2: 555.
Woolly Blue Violet | Violette parente
Viola sororia Willd.
has oval leaves having a heart-shaped base and marginal teeth which are either round or sharp-toothed. The blue flowers are overtopped by the leaves. The spurred petal has no hairs within, or just a few. Sepals are blunt with weakly developed basal ears. Capsules are purple-flecked and are borne on prostrate stalks. Viola sororiaoccurs in open woods and waste ground throughout southern and eastern Ontario, southern Quebec and New Brunswick, and is very common. Flowering is through April, May and well into June, occasionally again in September, dependent upon the weather.
These five stemless blue species can be separated with the following key (adapted and simplified from Ballard)
l. Leaves strongly heart-shaped with a narrow sinus, the basal lobes commonly overlapping; upper surface of leaf blades with erect white hairs; stipules less than 6 mm long, united to the leafstalks about half their length; petals beardless; spur 5–7 mm long
Selkirk’s Violet, V. selkirki
Leaves tapering or heart-shaped at the base, the basal lobes not overlapping; stipules over 7 mm long, never united to the leaf stalks
Go to 2
2. Most or all leaf blades distinctly longer than broad, sparsely to densely short hairy; sepals usually long-tapering to a sharply acute apex; lateral petals bearded; Constance Bay only
Northern Downy Violet, V. sagittata
Most or all leaf blades nearly as broad as long, or broader
Go to 3
3. Lateral petals bearded within by short, knob-shaped hairs; spurred petal hairless within; flowers commonly overtopping leaves; sepals long-tapering, sharply acute at apex, with well-developed, eared bases
Marsh Blue Violet, V. cucullata
Lateral (and often spurred) petals bearded within by long, thread-like hairs; sepals oblong, lance-shaped to oval, blunt to rounded at the tip, with inconspicuous eared bases
Go to 4
4. Flowers commonly overtopping leaves (especially in early flowering); foliage essentially hairless; largest leaf blades mostly blunt to rounded at the apex, straight across to nearly heart-shaped at the base, with flattened teeth along the margins; spurred petal densely bearded; plants of wet, alkaline, open habitats
Northern Bog Violet, V. nephrophylla
Leaves commonly overtopping flowers; foliage commonly moderately to densely long hairy; largest leaf blades acute to abruptly pointed at the tip, strongly heart-shaped at the base, sharply toothed along the margins; spurred petal scantily bearded; plants of moist to dry forest habitats
Woolly Blue Violet, V. sororia
A parting word. Remember that hybrids between native species do occur. Be alert to possible hybrids between those species that are found in the same habitat.
I hope you have fun trying to identify violets as I do. I recall a man who rarely steps out of his office and who accompanied me on a walk through the woods. On finding a violet, he asked, “What’s this purple thing?” Incredible!