FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Viola sororia is a low rosette-forming wildflower with toothed heart shaped foliage. From spring until early summer plants are graced by a sprinkling of diminutive blue or white violets. This groundcover thrives in lightly shaded sites with moist well drained soils.
HABITAT & HARDINESS: Viola sororia is native to eastern and central North America from Quebec to Florida and west to Saskatchewan and Texas.
Plants are indigenous to moist Blackland prairies, savannas, open woods, shaded banks and borders of rivers, lakes and creeks. This species also occurs in moist disturbed waste areas, urban right of ways, lawns and landscapes.
This violet is hardy from USDA Zones 3-7.
PLANT DESCRIPTION: Viola sororia is a low growing perennial with leaves and flowers that emerge directly from underground rhizomes.
Leaf blades are yellowish-green to dark green and 2-3” long. Blades vary from oval or rounded to heart-shaped and from smooth to pubescent. Leaves have long petioles and rounded teeth on the edges.
In mid-spring, leafless stems rise slightly above the foliage bearing 1” blue-violet or white blooms. Flowers have 5 spreading petals. The side petals have tufts of white hair toward the base. The lower petal is marked with dark purplish veins.
In late summer inconspicuous cleistogamous flowers form at the base. Seed mature inside the self-pollinated closed flowers and are released on or near the soil surface. Each seed has an elaiosome that attracts ants. The ants transport the seed to their mounds and feed on the nutritious elaiosome before discarding and consequently distributing the seed.
This violet is 4-6” tall with an equal spread.
CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDS: Viola sororia grows best in partly sunny or partly shaded sites with moist or average humusy soil.
Plants tolerate clay loam, silty loam, occasional mowing and full sun if adequate moisture is present.
This species is somewhat drought resistant but in sunny dry sites, foliage tends to yellow.
This species is pest resistant and usually not palatable to deer.
Plants expand from short rhizomes to form small colonies. They can aggressively self-seed and become weedy in ideal growing conditions.
LANDSCAPE USES: Viola sororia is a worthy Groundcover for the Shade Garden or Rock Garden. Plants provide Showy Blooms and are appropriate for Containers, Cottage Gardens, Deer Resistant Plantings, Low Maintenance Plantings and Perennial Borders.
COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS: Try planting Viola sororia with Phlox divaricata, Chrysogonum virginianum, Iris cristata, Silene regia, or Spigelia marilandica.
Viola walteri ‘Silver Gem’ has comparable height, habit and cultural needs and could be substituted in a pinch.
TRIVIA: The flowers are rarely visited by insects. Caterpillars of several types of Fritillary butterflies feed on the foliage. Ants consume the seed elaiosome and birds or small mammals eat the seed.
Also known as Viola floridana, V. latiuscula, V. palmata var. sororia, Viola papilionacea, and Viola priceana.
Other common names include common blue violet, hooded blue violet, Florida violet, woolly blue violet, wood violet and lesbian flower.
Viola spp. is called lesbian flower due to a poem where Sappho describes herself and her lover as wearing violets. It became popular in the early 1900’s for lesbians to give bouquets of violets to their “significant others”.
Viola spp. are the state flowers of Illinois, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Wisconsin.