These hardy, abundant perennials poke up early in the spring. They are common in woods,
thickets, stream banks, pastures, and disturbed soils. They seem happiest in partial shade,
but if there is enough dampness in the soil, they tolerate full sun.
Plants: Plants are low to the ground, about 4-8" (10-20 cm) high
and 6" (15 cm) around.
Leaves: Leaves are up to 3" (7.6 cm) long, usually closer
to 1" (2.5 cm), on long petioles (stems). They are usually dark green, but may appear
lighter and more yellowish under full sun. They are roughly heart-shaped, with crenate or
serrate edges. Some are hairy; some aren’t.
Flowers: Flowers are a shade of violet or blue, rarely white,
and even more rarely bicolored. They are about
¾-1" (1.9-2.5 cm) in size,
have a total of five petals, and have
bilateral symmetry. That’s fancy botanist talk for mirror images: if you cut the
flower in half vertically, the two sides are mirror images of each other. There are two petals
on top, and two lower side petals, and a bottom petal that serves as a landing strip for visiting
pollinators. The two side petals have white hairs near the center of the flower. Flowers
appear from March to June. They tend to droop. Flowers and leaves are on separate
stems. Although the genus, Viola, means sweet-scented, common
violets have no detectable odor.
Fruits: Three-part whitish seed capsules dry and explode, flinging
lots of seeds.
Edibility: Violet leaves are high in vitamins A and C, and are
cooked as greens or added raw to salads. Flowers can be used to make candies or jellies.