Viola sororia (Common Blue Violet)

Plant Info
Also known as: Woolly Blue Violet, Northern Blue Violet
Family:Violaceae (Violet)
Life cycle:annual, short-lived perennial
Habitat:shade, sun; woods, lawns, roadsides, fields
Bloom season:April - June
Plant height:3 to 8 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FAC MW: FAC NCNE: FAC
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Flower shape: irregular

[photo of flower] Single flower at the end of a smooth to densely hairy but otherwise naked stem. Flowers are ¾ to 1 inch across, slightly irregular with 5 broadly spreading petals, the 2 side petals with thick tufts of white hairs (bearded) at the base. Petal color is typically a deep blue-violet, fading to white then pale yellow at the base, but this is a variable species that may have white or white and blue petals, all typically fading to pale yellowish at the base. The lower petal is heavily veined dark blue-violet, and forms a short rounded spur at the back that barely projects past the sepals. A plant has a few to several flowering stems arising directly from the rootstock.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: basal Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are all basal, to 2 inches long and wide, generally heart shaped with rounded lobes at base, rounded teeth all around the edges, on a stem up to 6 inches long. Lower leaves have more rounded tips, upper leaves more tapering to a blunt tip.

[photo of leaf underside] The upper surface is smooth, the undersided hairy especially along veins. Rootstock is thick and multi branched, often forming colonies. Leaf and flower stems are typically hairy, but may be smooth.


This is a common urban violet, most likely in every county in Minnesota but with a few gaps in the herbarium collection. It is often weedy in gardens and lawns—my own yard is thick with it. I found it difficult to get rid of so caved in and now just let it grow where it will. Who wants a monoculture bluegrass lawn anyway, eh? Violets can be difficult to distinguish and Common Blue Violet's variability does not help with an ID. Typically it has bearded blue-violet flowers with a short spur, broad, heart-shaped basal leaves rounded or blunt at the tip, and is hairy to varying degrees. The white-petaled flowers may be confused for Canada White Violet (Viola canadensis), but it has stem leaves as well as basal leaves, and a much brighter yellow at the base of the petals. There are differences of opinion whether the different colored flowers are different species, or different varieties of V. sororia. Ditto those with hairy or smooth stems. At this time the DNR does not make any distinctions, so we won't either.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey and Chisago counties. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka County and Whitewater Wildlife Management Area.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Bonnie Haglund - Moorhead
on: 2011-05-18 17:17:58

How do they prapagate?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2011-05-18 18:55:20

It spreads primary by seed

Posted by: Ruth - Duluth
on: 2012-09-07 10:47:09

Does anyone know where I can find seeds for this plant? I'm looking for Minnesota-grown seeds, but will take those from other states if necessary (the closer the better).

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2012-09-09 07:14:54

Ruth, see "Where to buy native seeds and plants" that is displayed on almost every page of this web site. If you don't see the species you're looking for, ask the vendor about it. They can probably tell you if it's even generally available.

Posted by: Debbie J - St. Louis Park
on: 2016-04-14 09:51:47

I am trying to start a patch of native violets so I would like to know how to tell the difference between viola sororia and the non-native odorata. Thanks

Posted by: Bonnie M Juran - Lake Elmo
on: 2019-07-10 19:08:32

I spotted a Great Spangled Fritillary in my yard and while doing some research with my 8 year old granddaughter we discovered that the host plant for the butterfly is violets. It would be a very nice addition to the site if this information was included. It might help the pollinators if we understood the importance of the native plants. Thank you for this very informative site.

Posted by: Ron Johannsen - Trenton Lake, Mn.
on: 2020-05-02 13:21:18

Many blue common violets blooming along with white trout lilies now.

Posted by: Keith - keewatin
on: 2020-07-02 09:19:50

I really love wild violets, how many species are there in MN? The ones I have in my yard dont have mostly blue peddles. The top two are almost solid blue/violet, the middle two white, and the bottom two yellow.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2020-07-02 12:08:57

Keith, there are about 20 species of native violets in Minnesota, but the tri-colored one you have in your yard, appropriately named V. tricolor and commonly called Johnny jump-up, is an introduction from Eurasia.

Posted by: Paul henjum - Apple Valley
on: 2020-12-29 07:45:06

Here in Apple Valley, this is the largest acaulescent species. We have both blue-violet and nearly all-white flowering forms. Which put on a showy display in the yard each spring, growing in dense colonies. In the woods, they are typically more scattered. They are perennials, and most seeds are produced from cleistogamous flowers that are formed after the showing flowers are done blooming. Some of the white flowering plants have crossed with Viola sororia 'Freckles' giving rise to white flowers with blue specks and blotches. Dear and woodchucks eat the foliage.

Posted by: Ellen S. - Hennepin Co.
on: 2021-05-08 09:38:25

These flowers grow wonderfully in our yard and all over the neighborhood. They are aggressive but so lovely and beautiful. Most are deep purple with white centers, or white with streaky purple centers. But some are streaky pale purple, and a few adventuresome plants produce solid fuschia flowers with white centers.

Posted by: Lou - Scott County
on: 2021-12-11 08:59:10

I'd like to learn more about myrmecochory--the violet's seed dispersal by ants. Can you recommend any reputable sources?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2021-12-11 09:48:25

Sorry, Lou, we do not have any information on that subject.

Posted by: Zoe Dirks - St Louis Park
on: 2022-05-23 08:56:01

Seen in great numbers by George Haun Trail at Bass Lake. They're a lovely sight.

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