Viola pubescens (Downy Yellow Violet)

Plant Info
Also known as: Smooth Yellow Violet
Family:Violaceae (Violet)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, shade; dry woods
Bloom season:April - June
Plant height:4 to 18 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
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

Single irregular 5-petaled flower at the end of a slender stalk at the top of the stem and arising from the leaf axils. Flowers are yellow, up to ½ inch (≤ 13 mm) long. The upper two petals are erect or bent back, the two lateral petals have short hairs at the base (bearded), the lower petal is hairless, has purple veins near the base, and forms a short rounded spur at the back. The 5 sepals around the base of the flower are minutely hairy, fringed around the edges, the two lower largest, lance-linear to lance-shaped, blunt to pointed at the tip, and have a short extension at the base (auricle) that is straight across to rounded along the end and does not elongate in fruit. Flower stalks are hairy.

Leaves and stem: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

Typically, there are 2 or 3 alternate leaves on upper 1/3 of the stem and no basal leaves, rarely one. Leaves are broadly egg to kidney-shaped, wedge-shaped to straight across to somewhat heart-shaped at the base, blunt to rounded at the tip, sometimes abruptly narrowed at the tip. Largest leaves are up to 3 inches (75 mm) long, about as wide as long.  Surfaces are hairy, edges are toothed and fringed with short hairs, leaf stalks are hairy. At the base of the leaf stalk is a leafy appendage (stipule) that is broadly egg-shaped and wedge-shaped at the base. Stems are single from the base, ascending to erect, and covered with spreading hairs. No stolons are produced.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

Both petalled (chasmogamous) and petal-less, self-pollinating (cleistogamous) flowers produce fruit, in an ovoid capsule that becomes erect just before splitting into 3 sections and releasing its seed. Chasmogamous flowers bloom in spring, cleistogamous flowers are produced all summer. All capsules are green drying tan or brown, hairless to densely hairy, up to ~½ inch (7 to 14 mm) long. Seeds are medium orange-brown, up to 3 mm long.


Downy Yellow Violet was once considered ubiquitous in woodlands across Minnesota, but a major overhaul of Viola accounts published in 2023 has split up V. pubescens, making Viola eriocarpa (Smooth Yellow Violet) the dominant yellow woodland violet here. V. pubescens is still present, but its numbers are few and is more common in Wisconsin.

V. pubescens is recognized by: usually hairy all over, stems single from the base, usually with only 2 or 3 alternate leaves all clustered near the tip, no basal leaves (rarely 1); egg to kidney-shaped leaves, not strongly heart-shaped at the base, usually blunt to rounded at the tip; stipules wedge-shaped at the base; yellow flowers, lateral petals bearded; green capsules, orange-brown seeds.

While V. pubescens is pretty consistent in most characteristics, V. eriocarpa is much more variable: hairy or not, stems single or multiple from the base, 1 to 3 basal leaves, usually 4 or 5 stem leaves on the upper half to 4/5 of the stem, though the lower nodes are sometimes leafless, more consistently heart-shaped leaves, stipules are usually asymmetric at the base. In the case where a plant has a single stem with leaves all near the tip, look on the lower stem for a stipule without a leaf. That would be a sign of V. eriocarpa rather than V. pubescens.

The third yellow violet in Minnesota is Viola nuttallii (Yellow Prairie Violet), which is a rare species only present in a few locations in our western counties. Its leaves are narrowly lance-shaped and toothless, and it lives in open prairies, not woodlands.

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

Posted by: Pam - Stanchfield
on: 2010-05-05 02:50:56

These starting blooming in the woods last week and are quite plentiful now.

Posted by: Arne - Wright County, Near Monticello
on: 2011-05-27 18:46:34

Plentiful in Montissippi Park, Wright County 05/27/11

Posted by: Darcy - Grygla
on: 2011-05-29 21:32:06

lots of them in my woods. So pretty!

Posted by: Dianne - Blaine
on: 2012-05-04 15:53:51

Saw several of these today (5/4/2012) in Pioneer Park in Blaine.

Posted by: John - Lebanon Hills Regional Park Eagan
on: 2015-05-01 10:03:03

Saw several happy little patches alongside a hiking trail not too far from a small lake.

Posted by: cheryl - elm creek park
on: 2015-05-08 23:02:42

Blooming now on the intermediate and expert loops of the mt bike trail at elm creek park.

Posted by: Jackie - Washington County
on: 2015-05-15 09:55:32

Brilliant yellow blooms in wooded Washington County.

Posted by: Michele - Jay Cooke State Park
on: 2016-05-19 10:27:18

Lots of them in bloom through the woods.

Posted by: Leah - West Medicine Lake Park, Plymouth
on: 2016-07-04 21:59:46

They were blooming near the trail in early June.

Posted by: Alex - Hackensack
on: 2017-05-29 03:34:39

I find many of these in the woods near Hackensack, MN every year. Currently blooming in late May.

Posted by: Amy - Stanchfield
on: 2019-06-02 09:22:55

First year I've seen them, growing in my heavily shaded back yard.

Posted by: Cara - Rochester
on: 2020-05-13 21:02:25

Found in a shaded area in our yard, basically a wild forest area.

Posted by: Wayne Goeken - ERSKINE
on: 2020-05-26 23:53:05

Hiked through Dorr WMA SW of Erskine today and LOTS of Downy Yellow Violet along with purple violets...and saw my first yellow laddyslippers of the year there...saw three in bloom...didn't expect that. Wonderful area. Bring bug spray...skeeters are friendly...and do thorough tick check after...just sayin...and I'd share photos if that is allowed and if I was instructed in how to do so.

Posted by: Jeanne Betsinger - North eastern houston county
on: 2020-06-06 12:49:29

There are several patches on my property, I also have them growing in my flower beds. They will often come up along with other wild flowers when plowing up an old pasture or neglected wood lot.

Posted by: J. OBrien - Edina
on: 2021-05-07 19:43:59

Just found some of the downy yellow violets for the first time in my backyard which is wooded (mostly oaks). Also have white, deep purple and magenta varieties.

Posted by: Peter - Afton, MN
on: 2021-05-21 15:41:54

Just found a few growing in my lawn, right next to some V. sororia 'rubra'. They're really pretty, and I hope they spread.

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