Master Naturalist Patrick Kyle is back on the blog with more about these tiny darlings, native to our parts.
Are they Early Blue Violets (Viola adunca), Great-spurred Violets (Viola selkirkii), Bog Violets (Viola nephrophylla), Marsh violets (Viola palustris) or Crowfoot Violets (Viola pedatifida)? These violets all have blue flowers, so how can we tell the difference?
Location or habitat to start with. If you are not in a fen or marsh you can rule out the Bog and Marsh Violets. Unusually for violets, Crowfoot Violet grows in dry habitats, such as prairies or at the edge of aspen groves. Early Blues also favour drier habitats including sandy soil.
Look at the shape of the leaves. Crowfoot Violets have a very distinctive leaf shape: their basal leaves are cleft almost to their base, with each segment further cleft into 2 to 4 lobes, resembling crow’s feet, hence the common name. Though you already know this if you read my early blog on the Crowfoot Violet last fall.
That narrows it down to Early Blue or Great-spurred Violets. That should be simple. With a name like Great-spurred Violet, it must have a larger spur than Early Blue? Wrong! Both have spurs. The Early Blue Violet (Viola adunca) also has the common name Hooked Violet. Adunca means “hooked” or “having hooks” referring to the bent tip of the spur. The Great-spurred Violet does lack the hook on the tip of the spur. Now have I got you confused? And that is why Patsy (of ENPG fame) doesn’t like common names!
So we’d better look at the leaves. The leaf shape is similar, egg- to heart-shaped. A close look will reveal that the top of the early blue violet is hairless or (glabrous) while the Great-spurred violet is hairy on top of the leaves.
The flower on the Early Blue is bearded on the two lateral petals while the Great-spurred Violet is hairless without beards on the pictures I have taken. The Great-spurred Violet (Viola selkirkii) is said to be less common. Last spring during the Elk Island flower count we found a new very large patch and we’re looking forward to doing the May flower count to see how this new patch is doing.
Another way to identify violets is to check if they have runners above ground or rhizomes, or whether the flowers are on leafy stems as opposed to springing directly from the basal leaves. Early Blue is the only violet in this group to have leafy stems.
No matter which plant you are trying to identify always check for hairs on the stems and on the leaves both top and bottom.
These are just five of the thirteen species of violets in Alberta. So I have subjects for more blogs!
References: Plants of Alberta by France Royer and Richard Dickinson Plants of the Western Boreal Forest & Aspen Parkland by Johnson, Kershaw, MacKinnon and Pojar Thanks to Patsy Cotterill for editing. Web site: http://www.saskwildflower.ca/native-plant-photos.html All photos by Patrick Kyle.