Genus Viola

 The Violets

web page constructed by Melissa Bugbee
July 12, 1998
        Viola pedata                                                 Viola sagittata
        Photo by W. H. Duncan                                                     Photo by W.H. Duncan
                                courtesy of UGA Herbarium                                               courtesy of UGAHerbarium
link to V. pedata
link to V. sagittata


Higher Taxa:
    The classification of the genus Viola is as follows (Zomlefer, 1994):
        Class Angiosperma
            Subclass Dicotyledonae
                Superorder Violanae
                    Order Violales
                        Family Violaceae
                            Genus Viola
Description of Viola:
    The genus Viola is one of  22 genera in the family Violaceae, which contains over 900 species.  Hybanthus is the next most common genus in North America and includes the green violet.  Radford  (p.234) gives the following key for distinguishing between these two genera.
   "-Petals green; calyx about equaling corolla; fruit 1.5-2 cm long; seed 3 mm or more long............Hybanthus
    -Petals not green; calyx not more than 1/2 a long as  corolla, or more and corolla greatly exceeding 10 mm; fruit 1.3 cm or less long; seed less than 3 mm long..........................................................................................Viola."

    The numerous species (~500)  in Viola are commonly known as the violets and are usually easy to recognize by their distinctively shaped leaves and flowers.  The flowers have five sepals and five petals, with one lowered and scoop-like.  The anthers of the five stamens cluster around the base of the pistil, which is solitary and has a club-like style and stigma (Grimm, p.173).
Species List:
    The genus Viola contains around 500 species worldwide, with 87 occurring in North America (Zomlefer, 1994).  The following list contains 45 species that occur in the southeastern United States, as compiled by Radford, Ahles, and Bell in Guide to the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas, 1964.  The common names listed are as given by William Grimm in Recognizing Flowering Wild Plants, 1968.
               V. affinis
               V. arvensis
               V. blanda, Sweet White Violet
               V. brittoniana, Coast Violet

 Identification of Species:
    Because the genus Viola contains 500 species, many of which hybridize readily, identification of individual species can be quite difficult.  Radford (p. 234 - 236) gives a key for distinguishing between the species listed above.  The leaves of some violets make them easier to distinguish for the novice.  For example, V. pedata and V. sagittata, two species of the so-called "acaulescent blue violets" have very distinctive leaves.  Pedata's leaves are divided into narrow segments and palmate, while sagittata's leaves are shaped like arrows (see below).  Experts warn against using leaf blade characteristics as a classifying feature, however, because the effects of hybridizations and environmental conditions can lead to false identifications (McKinney p.5).
            V. pedata leaf                                     V. sagittata leaf
          drawing by M. Bugbee                     drawing by M. Bugbee
General Information:
    The violets have historical and economic importance resulting from their beauty and from the compounds they contain.  Their cultivation in gardens (especially the Parma violets and the pansies)  dates back for centuries.   Napoleon used them as a political and romantic symbol, and they are prominent in literature and folklore.  The Romans and others much more recently have cited the medicinal qualities of the violets.  They are high in vitamin A, salicylic acid, and a compound called violine, and have been used for headache relief, as laxatives and diuretics, and as expectorants (Coon, 1977).
References: Links:

    To visit the Time Life web page on violets, click here.

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Melissa Bugbee
University of Georgia
Athens, GA