The violet family are mostly perennial herbs, but there are some shrubs and a few annuals. The leaves are almost always simple, alternate, and have stipules at the bases. The flowers are asymmetrical, having 5 separate sepals, 5 separate petals, 5 stamens that usually have the filaments fused in a ring around the ovary, and a 3-celled compound pistil with a superior ovary. In Viola, the petals are unequal, the lower pair forming a spur. Nectar is secreted into the base of the spur from the bases of the lowest two stamens. In trying to reach the nectar, an insect will brush against the stigma. Sometimes there are also spurs on the anthers which the insect also touches, triggering deposition of pollen onto the insect. The fruit is a capsule with 3 valves, splitting open explosively and shooting out seeds. The violet family has about 22 genera and 900 species, but only one genus, Viola, occurs in Montana. Viola includes around 400 species, almost half the total number of species in the family. Distribution: The family occurs throughout the world, but is most abundant in temperate regions. The family is not commercially important apart from Viola odorata which is grown for perfume, flavoring, and a violet colored liqueur called Parfait Amour. The common garden pansy belongs to a hybrid group, Viola x wittrockiana. A few species in other genera are used medicinally.
Guide to Identify Presented Species of the Violet Family
Viola adunca Early Blue Violet Perennial with leafy stems up to 10 cm tall. Dry to moist woods and open areas.
Flowers blue, 5-15 mm long, the spur about half the length of the lowest petal.
Leaves alternate, 1-3 cm wide, heart-shaped to ovate, finely blunt-toothed.
FLOWERS WHITE OR PINK
Viola canadensis Canada Violet Perennial, 10-40 cm tall, with leafy stems. In moist woodland and forests.
Flowers white to pinkish, with yellow in the middle, 2-3 cm wide.
Leaves basal and alternate, long-stalked, the blades heart-shaped, 4-8 cm long.
FLOWERS YELLOW. LEAVES ELONGATE
Viola vallicola Valley Violet Perennial up to 15 cm tall. Sagebrush and wooded areas, plains to mountains.
Flowers yellow, 8-15 mm long, from the base. Upper 2 petals brownish on back.
Leaves basal, the stalks 3-15 cm long, the blades ovate, 2-5 cm long.
Alphabetical listing with links to presented species of the Violet family: