Viola grisea (Great Lakes Violet)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Violaceae (Violet)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, sun; rocky or sandy soil; rock crevices, shores, river banks, pine stands, mixed forestadows
Bloom season:April - June
Plant height:2 to 10 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FAC MW: OBL NCNE: OBL
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 irregular 5-petaled flower at the end of a stalk that is held among or above the leaves. Flowers are purple to blue with a white throat, up to 1 inch (≤ 25 mm) long. The upper two petals are erect or bent back, the two lateral petals have dense, slender hairs at the base (bearded), the lower petal is also bearded, has purple veins near the base, and forms a short rounded spur at the back.

[photo of sepals, spur and flower stalk] The 5 sepals around the base of the flower are hairless or hairy, sometimes just fringed around the edges, the two lower broadest, narrowly egg-shaped, rounded to blunt at the tip, and have a short extension at the base (auricle) that is straight across to rounded along the end and elongates up to 2 mm in fruit. Flower stalks are moderately to densely covered in spreading hairs on the lower half or so, more sparsely hairy to hairless near the flower.

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

[photo of leaf] Leaves are all basal, held erect to ascending, narrowly heart-shaped at flowering time, broadening some later in the season, blunt to pointed at the tip. Largest leaves are up to 3½ inches (89 mm) long and 2 inches (51 mm) wide. Surfaces are moderately to densely covered in short hairs; edges are toothed, more distinctly on the lower half of the blade, and are fringed with short hairs.

[photo of lower flower and leaf stalks] Leaf stalks are moderately to densely covered in spreading hairs, especially towards the base. No stolons are produced.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of chasmogamous capsule] Both petalled (chasmogamous) and petal-less, self-pollinating (cleistogamous) flowers produce fruit, in a hairless, ovoid capsule that is initially nodding, becoming erect just before splitting into 3 sections and releasing its seed. Chasmogamous capsules are typically green. Chasmogamous flowers bloom in spring. Cleistogamous flowers are produced all summer on prostrate stalks shorter than the leaf stalks and arch up just before seed release; capsules are up to nearly ½ inch (5 to 11 mm) long and green or purple spotted.

[photo of seed] Seeds are medium yellow-brown to dark brown, up to 2 mm long.


Of Minnesota's many blue/purple native violets, Great Lakes Violet is a more northern species with the greatest density of populations north of Duluth in St. Louis and Lake counties, primarily found in rocky crags and ledges around rivers and lakes, but also in pine and mixed forests, occasionally meadows. In Minnesota, it was previously known as Viola novae-angliae, New England Violet, but a major overhaul of Viola accounts published in 2023 has put V. novae-angliae firmly in New England and far eastern Canada; it appears to be essentially a hairless version of V. grisea, which centers on the Great Lakes.

V. grisea is recognized most easily by the hairy, narrowly heart-shaped leaves that are longer than wide, more distinctly toothed on the lower half than the tip, and densely hairy leaf and flower stalks, particularly on the lower half or more. Most similar is Viola septentrionalis, (Northern Blue Violet), which may be similarly hairy but has proportionately wider leaves that are more evenly toothed and become broadly triangular to somewhat kidney-shaped later in the season. Also similar is Viola sagittata (Arrow-leaved Violet), more common in the central and southeastern part of the state, has leaves that are more triangular to elliptic at flowering time, straight across to only somewhat heart-shaped at the base, developing basal lobing with large teeth or narrow lobes over time, and its sepals have prominent auricles.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Carlton and Pine counties. Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in Carlton County.


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

Posted by: Andy - Bloomington
on: 2013-09-24 00:02:49

Discovered a mystery violet all over our yard at our new house, now I swear (due to unique leaf shape) it's New England Violet. The only difference I can see is our specimens have completely smooth petals (no beard). Makes great ground cover and spreads prolifically, even into sidewalk cracks!

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2013-09-26 18:58:28

Andy, if your yard is in the Twin Cities it's not likely you have New England violet spreading around, as its natural range is pretty limited to NE MN. The only blue beardless violets in MN we know about are birdfoot violet (Viola pedata) and Selkirk's violet (Viola selkirkii), which we don't have published yet. Neither of those species is typically found in yards. That distinction is usually left to common blue violet (Viola sororia).

Maybe if you post a picture on our Facebook page we can confirm what you have.

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