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Viola (US: /vˈlə/ and UK: /ˈv.ələ/)[1] is a genus of flowering plants in the violet family Violaceae. It is the largest genus in the family, containing between 525 and 600 species.[2][3] Most species are found in the temperate Northern Hemisphere; however, some are also found in widely divergent areas such as Hawaii, Australasia, and the Andes.

Viola reichenbachiana LC0128.jpg
Viola reichenbachiana
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Malpighiales
Family: Violaceae
Subfamily: Violoideae
Tribe: Violeae
Genus: Viola

List of Viola species

Some Viola species are perennial plants, some are annual plants, and a few are small shrubs. A large number of species, varieties and cultivars are grown in gardens for their ornamental flowers. In horticulture the term pansy is normally used for those multi-colored, large-flowered cultivars which are raised annually or biennially from seed and used extensively in bedding. The terms viola and violet are normally reserved for small-flowered annuals or perennials, including the wild species.[4][5]



Viola typically have heart-shaped, scalloped leaves, though a number have palmate leaves or other shapes. The vast majority of Viola species are herbaceous, and a substantial number are acaulescent in habit - meaning they lack any noticeable stems and the foliage and flowers appear to rise from the ground; the remaining species have short stems with foliage and flowers produced in the axils of the leaves. The simple leaves of plants with either habit are arranged alternately; the acaulescent species produce basal rosettes. Plants always have leaves with stipules that are often leaf-like.

Opened seed capsule of Field pansy, showing the seeds
Viola cultivar showing the large round flowers and the novel coloration that has been achieved through breeding.

The flowers of the vast majority of the species are zygomorphic with bilateral symmetry. The flowers are formed from five petals; four are upswept or fan-shaped petals with two per side, and there is one broad, lobed lower petal pointing downward. The shape of the petals and placement defines many species, for example, some species have a "spur" on the end of each petal while most have a spur on the lower petal.

Solitary flowers end long stalks with a pair of bracteoles. The flowers have five sepals that persist after blooming, and in some species the sepals enlarge after blooming. The flowers have five free stamens with short filaments that are oppressed against the ovary, only the lower two stamens have nectary spurs that are inserted on the lowest petal into the spur or a pouch. The flower styles are thickened near the top and the stigmas are head-like, narrowed or often beaked. The flowers have a superior ovary with one cell, which has three placentae, containing many ovules.

Viola are most often spring blooming with chasmogamous flowers with well-developed petals pollinated by insects. Many species also produce self-pollinated cleistogamous flowers in summer and autumn that do not open and lack petals.[6] In some species the showy chasmogamous flowers are infertile (e.g.,Viola papilionacea).[7]

After flowering, fruit capsules are produced that split open by way of three valves.[8] On drying, the capsules may eject seeds with considerable force to distances of several meters.[9] The nutlike seeds have straight embryos, flat cotyledons, and soft fleshy endosperm that is oily.[10] The seeds of some species have elaiosomes and are dispersed by ants.[11]

Flower colors vary in the genus, ranging from violet, through various shades of blue, yellow, white, and cream, whilst some types are bicolored, often blue and yellow. Flowering is often profuse, and may last for much of the spring and summer.

One quirk of some Viola is the elusive scent of their flowers; along with terpenes, a major component of the scent is a ketone compound called ionone, which temporarily desensitizes the receptors of the nose, thus preventing any further scent being detected from the flower until the nerves recover.[citation needed]

Selected speciesEdit

White-and-purple form of Viola sororia

See List of Viola species for a more complete list.

Note: Neither Saintpaulia ("African violets") nor Erythronium dens-canis ("dogtooth violets") are related to the true Viola.

The genus includes dog violets, a group of scentless species which are the most common Viola in many areas, sweet violet (Viola odorata) (named from its sweet scent), and many other species whose common name includes the word "violet". Several species are known as pansies, including the yellow pansy (Viola pedunculata) of the Pacific coast.

Common blue violet Viola sororia is the state flower of Wisconsin, Rhode Island, Illinois, and New Jersey.

Australia is home to a number of Viola species, including Viola hederacea, Viola betonicifolia and Viola banksii, first collected by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander on the Cook voyage to Botany Bay.

Fossil recordEdit

One fossil seed of †Viola rimosa has been extracted from borehole samples of the Middle Miocene fresh water deposits in Nowy Sacz Basin, West Carpathians, Poland.[12]

Horticultural usesEdit

Species and cultivarsEdit

Cultivars of Viola cornuta, Viola cucullata, and Viola odorata, are commonly grown from seed. Other species often grown include Viola labradorica, Viola pedata, and Viola rotundifolia.[13]

The modern garden pansy (V. × wittrockiana) is a plant of complex hybrid origin involving at least three species, V. tricolor (wild pansy or heartsease), V. altaica, and V. lutea (mountain pansy).[14]The hybrid horned pansy (V. × williamsii) originates from hybridization involving garden pansy and Viola cornuta.[15]

Bedding plantsEdit

In 2005 in the United States, Viola cultivars (including pansies) were one of the top three bedding plant crops and 111 million dollars worth of flats of Viola were produced for the bedding flower market.[16] Pansies and violas used for bedding are generally raised from seed, and F1 hybrid seed strains have been developed which produce compact plants of reasonably consistent flower coloring and appearance. Bedding plants are usually discarded after one growing season.

Perennial cultivarsEdit

Selection of cultivated Violas at the BBC Gardeners' World show, in June 2011.

There are hundreds of perennial viola and violetta cultivars; many of these do not breed true from seed and therefore have to be propagated from cuttings. Violettas can be distinguished from violas by the lack of ray markings on their petals.[4] The following cultivars, of mixed or uncertain parentage, have gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit:-[17]

Other popular examples include:[23]

  • 'Ardross Gem' (viola)
  • 'Blackjack'
  • 'Buttercup' (violetta)
  • 'Columbine' (viola)
  • 'Dawn' (violetta)
  • 'Etain' (viola)
  • 'Irish Molly' (viola)
  • 'Jackanapes' (viola)
  • 'Maggie Mott' (viola)
  • 'Martin' (viola)
  • 'Molly Sanderson' (viola)
  • 'Rebecca' (violetta)
  • 'Vita' (viola)
  • 'Zoe' (violetta)


Weed controlEdit

Not all Viola are desired, and wild violets are considered weeds in North American lawns by some people.[citation needed] Others tolerate or welcome the presence of violets in lawns. Wild violets are regarded as a problem in shady fescue lawns in North America. Violets thrive in the part/full shade and are not susceptible to most herbicides used to kill common lawn weeds. Triclopyr, a weedkiller, has been found to be an effective method of controlling wild violets in fescue lawns.

Other usesEdit


When newly opened, Viola flowers may be used to decorate salads or in stuffings for poultry or fish. Soufflés, cream, and similar desserts can be flavoured with essence of Viola flowers. The young leaves are edible raw or cooked as a somewhat bland leaf vegetable. The flowers and leaves of the cultivar 'Rebecca', one of the Violetta violets, have a distinct vanilla flavor with hints of wintergreen. The pungent perfume of some varieties of V. odorata adds inimitable sweetness to desserts, fruit salads, and teas while the mild pea flavor of V. tricolor combines equally well with sweet or savory foods, like grilled meats and steamed vegetables. The heart-shaped leaves of V. odorata provide a free source of greens throughout a long growing season.[24]

A candied violet or crystallized violet is a flower, usually of Viola odorata, preserved by a coating of egg white and crystallised sugar. Alternatively, hot syrup is poured over the fresh flower (or the flower is immersed in the syrup) and stirred until the sugar recrystallizes and has dried. This method is still used for rose petals and was applied to orange flowers in the past (when almonds or orange peel are treated this way they are called pralines). Candied violets are still made commercially in Toulouse, France, where they are known as violettes de Toulouse. They are used as decorating or included in aromatic desserts.

The French are also known for their violet syrup, most commonly made from an extract of violets. In the United States, this French violet syrup is used to make violet scones and marshmallows.

Viola essence flavours the liqueurs Creme Yvette, Creme de Violette, and Parfait d'Amour. It is also used in Parma Violets confectionery.

Cultural associationsEdit


Violet is the traditional birth flower for February in English tradition.[25]

Geographical territoriesEdit

In the United States, the violet is state flower of Illinois[26] and Rhode Island.[27] Viola sororia was declared the state flower of New Jersey [28] and Wisconsin.[29][30] In Canada, the Viola cucullata is the provincial flower of New Brunswick adopted in 1936[31] In the United Kingdom, Viola riviniana is the county flower of Lincolnshire.[32]


Violets became symbolically associated with lesbian love.[33][34] This connection originates from fragments of a poem by Sappho about a lost love, in which she describes her as "Close by my side you put around yourself [many wreaths] of violets and roses."[35] In another poem, Sappho describes her lost love as wearing "violet tiaras, braided rosebuds, dill and crocus twined around" her neck.[36] In 1926, one of the first plays to involve a lesbian relationship, La Prisonnière by Édouard Bourdet, used a bouquet of violets to signify lesbian love.[37][38]


Violets, and badges depicting them,[39][40] were sold in fund-raising efforts in Australia and New Zealand on and around Violet Day[41] in commemoration of the lost soldiers of World War I.[42]


Many Viola species contain antioxidants called anthocyanins. Fourteen anthocyanins from V. yedoensis and V. prionantha have been identified. Some anthocyanins show strong antioxidant activities.[43] Most violas tested and many other plants of the family Violaceae contain cyclotides,[44][45][46] which have a diverse range of in vitro biological activities when isolated from the plant, including uterotonic, anti-HIV, antimicrobial, and insecticidal activities.[47] Viola canescens, a species from India, exhibited in vitro activity against Trypanosoma cruzi.[48]

Viola has been evaluated in different clinical indications in human studies. A double blind clinical trial showed that the adjuvant use of Viola odorata syrup with short-acting β-agonists can improve the cough suppression in children with asthma.[49][50][51][52] In another study intranasal administration of Viola odorata extract oil showed to be effective in patients with insomnia.[50][53] Topical use of an herbal formulation containing Viola tricolor extract also showed promising effects in patients with mild-to-moderate atopic dermatitis.[54]


Viola odorata is used as a source for scents in the perfume industry. Violet is known to have a 'flirty' scent as its fragrance comes and goes. Ionone is present in the flowers, which turns off the ability for humans to smell the fragrant compound for moments at a time.[55]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The pronunciation /vˈlə/ (vy-OH-lə) is the most common one in US English, but US dictionaries also record (less common) use of /viˈlə/ (vee-OH-lə) and /ˈv.ələ/ (VY-ə-lə): American Heritage Dictionary Archived 2010-02-13 at the Wayback Machine, Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary Archived 2010-02-19 at the Wayback Machine. The only pronunciation recorded by the Compact Oxford English Dictionary is /ˈvələ/ (VEE-ə-lə) but the only pronunciation recorded by the Oxford Dictionaries Online is /ˈv.ələ/ (VY-ə-lə).
  2. ^ Ning, Z. L.; et al. (2012). "Viola jinggangshanensis (Violaceae), a new species from Jiangxi, China" (PDF). Annales Botanici Fennici. 49 (5): 383–86. doi:10.5735/085.049.0610. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2014-02-20.
  3. ^ Zhou, J. S.; et al. (2008). "Viola nanlingensis (Violaceae), a new species from Guangdong, southern China" (PDF). Annales Botanici Fennici. 45 (3): 233–36. doi:10.5735/085.045.0312. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2014-02-20.
  4. ^ a b "Pansies, Violas and Violettas". Archived from the original on 2008-12-25. Retrieved 2009-02-06. (Accessed 14 Oct 2008)
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-12-11. Retrieved 2008-10-14.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) (Accessed 14 Oct 2008)
  6. ^ Walters, Dirk R., and David J. Keil (1996). Vascular plant taxonomy. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Pub. Co. p. 332.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ Violet, Common Blue - (‘’Viola papilionacea’’) Archived 2012-03-10 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Cullen, J. (2001). Handbook of North European garden plants with keys to families and genera. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 345.
  9. ^ Rendle, Alfred B. (1967). The classification of plants. Vol. II: Dicotyledons. Cambridge at the University Press. p. 208.
  10. ^ Cronquist, Arthur (1981). An integrated system of classification of flowering plants. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 404.
  11. ^ Sanders, Jack (2003). The secrets of wildflowers. Guilford, CT: The Globe Pequot Press. p. 49.
  12. ^ Łańcucka-Środoniowa M.: Macroscopic plant remains from the freshwater Miocene of the Nowy Sącz Basin (West Carpathians, Poland) [Szczątki makroskopowe roślin z miocenu słodkowodnego Kotliny Sądeckiej (Karpaty Zachodnie, Polska)]. Acta Palaeobotanica 1979 20 (1): 3-117.
  13. ^ Armitage, Allan M. (1989), Herbaceous perennial plants: a treatise on their identification, culture, and garden attributes, Athens, GA.: Varsity Press, Inc., pp. 600–606, ISBN 978-0-87563-810-2
  14. ^ Wittrock, Veit Brecher (1895). "Viola-studier II. Bidrag till de odlade penséernas historia med särskild hänsyn till deras härkomst". Acta Horti Bergiani. 2 (7).
  15. ^ Wittrock, Veit Brecher (1897). "Viola-studier I. Morfologisk-biologiska och systematiska studier öfver Viola tricolor (L.) och hennes närmare anförvandter". Acta Horti Bergiani. 2 (1): 117.
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-12-11. Retrieved 2008-09-05.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  17. ^ "AGM Plants - Ornamental" (PDF). Royal Horticultural Society. July 2017. p. 107. Retrieved 18 February 2019.
  18. ^ "RHS Plant Selector Viola 'Aspasia'". Archived from the original on 17 May 2013. Retrieved 8 June 2013.
  19. ^ "RHS Plant Selector Viola 'Clementina'". Archived from the original on 17 May 2013. Retrieved 8 June 2013.
  20. ^ "RHS Plant Selector Viola 'Huntercombe Purple'". Archived from the original on 17 May 2013. Retrieved 8 June 2013.
  21. ^ "RHS Plant Selector Viola 'Moonlight'". Archived from the original on 17 May 2013. Retrieved 8 June 2013.
  22. ^ "RHS Plant Selector Viola 'Nellie Britton'". Retrieved 8 June 2013.
  23. ^ RHS Plant Finder 2008-2009, Dorling Kindersley (2008) ISBN 978-1-4053-3190-6 pp787–791
  24. ^ Whittaker, Debbie. "Cooking and Decorating With Violets". The Culinary Violet. The American Violet Society. Archived from the original on 2012-02-23. Retrieved 2012-02-09.
  25. ^ Almanac, Old Farmer's. "Birth Month Flowers and Their Meanings".
  26. ^ "State Symbols". State of Illinois.
  27. ^ "Rhode Island State Flower - Violet".
  28. ^ "New Jersey State Flower - Violet".
  29. ^ "Wisconsin State Symbols". State of Wisconsin. Archived from the original on 2010-01-12. Retrieved 2011-12-19.
  30. ^ "Wisconsin State Flower - Wood Violet".
  31. ^ "New Brunswick". Government of Canada. 2013-08-28. Retrieved 2015-07-18.
  32. ^ "Dog-violet (Common)". Plantlife.
  33. ^ Myers, JoAnne (2003). The A to Z of the Lesbian Liberation Movement: Still the Rage (The A to Z Guide Series, No. 73 ) (1st ed.). Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press. p. 242. ISBN 978-0-8108-6811-3.
  34. ^ "Gay Symbols Through the Ages". The Alyson Almanac: A Treasury of Information for the Gay and Lesbian Community. Boston, Massachusetts: Alyson Publications. 1989. p. 100. ISBN 978-0-932870-19-3.
  35. ^ Collecott, Diana (1999). H.D. and Sapphic Modernism 1910-1950 (1st ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 216. ISBN 978-0-521-55078-9.
  36. ^ Barnard, Mary (1958). Sappho: A New Translation (1st ed.). University of California Press. p. 42. (LCCN 58-6520)
  37. ^ Cohen-Stratyner, Barbara (January 14, 2014). "Violets and Vandamm". New York Public Library. Retrieved 4 October 2018.
  38. ^ Sova, Dawn B. (2004). Banned Plays: Censorship Histories of 125 Stage Dramas (1st ed.). Facts On File. pp. 37–40. ISBN 978-0-8160-4018-6.
  39. ^ NMA Collections Search Archived 2014-05-31 at the Wayback Machine National Museum of Australia (2003-2010) - Violet Day 1917 fundraising badge
  40. ^ Gracie, Carol (2012), Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast: A Natural History, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, p. 221, ISBN 978-0691144665
  41. ^ Family History South Australia Archived 2013-11-09 at the Wayback Machine Leadbeater, B (2006). World War 1 Violet Day South Australia.
  42. ^ "Violet Day, Press, 3 September 1914, p.8, col. 8" (Newspaper). The National Library of New Zealand. 3 September 1914. p. 8. Archived from the original on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 10 November 2015.
  43. ^ Zhang, J.; et al. (2011). "Rapid separation and identification of anthocyanins from flowers of Viola yedoensis and V. prionantha by high-performance liquid chromatography-photodiode array detection-electrospray ionisation mass spectrometry". Phytochemical Analysis. 23 (1): 16–22. doi:10.1002/pca.1320. PMID 21523841.
  44. ^ Tang, J.; et al. (2010). "Isolation and characterization of cytotoxic cyclotides from Viola tricolor" (PDF). Peptides. 31 (8): 1434–40. doi:10.1016/j.peptides.2010.05.004. PMID 20580652. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-07-18. Retrieved 2013-07-03.
  45. ^ Trabi, M.; et al. (2009). "Circular proteins from Melicytus (Violaceae) refine the conserved protein and gene architecture of cyclotides". Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry. 7 (11): 2378–88. doi:10.1039/b823020j. PMID 19462049.
  46. ^ Gerlach, S. L.; et al. (2010). "Isolation, characterization, and bioactivity of cyclotides from the Micronesian plant Psychotria leptothyrsa". Journal of Natural Products. 73 (7): 1207–13. doi:10.1021/np9007365. PMID 20575512.
  47. ^ Craik, David J. (2010). "Discovery and applications of the plant cyclotides". Toxicon. 56 (7): 1092–1102. doi:10.1016/j.toxicon.2010.02.021. PMID 20219513.
  48. ^ Dua, VK; Verma, G; Agarwal, DD; Kaiser, M; Brun, R (Apr 2011). "Antiprotozoal activities of traditional medicinal plants from the Garhwal region of North West Himalaya, India". Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 136 (1): 123–128. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2011.04.024. PMID 21527328.
  49. ^ Qasemzadeh, MJ; Sharifi, H; Hamedanian, M; Gharehbeglou, M; Heydari, M; Sardari, M; Akhlaghdoust, M; Minae, MB (Oct 2015). "The Effect of Viola odorata Flower Syrup on the Cough of Children With Asthma: A Double-Blind, Randomized Controlled Trial". Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine. 20 (4): 287–91. doi:10.1177/2156587215584862. PMID 25954025. Archived from the original on 2015-05-18.
  50. ^ a b Staff, Thomson P.D.R (2004-01-01). PDR for Herbal Medicines. ISBN 9781563635120. Archived from the original on 2015-11-30.
  51. ^ "A review on phytoconstituents against asthma". Int. J. Pharm. Sci. Rev. Res.
  52. ^ "Herbal antitussives and expectorants - A review". International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences Review and Research. 5 (2): 5–9. 2010.
  53. ^ Feyzabadi, Z; Jafari, F; Kamali, SH; Ashayeri, H; Badiee Aval, S; Esfahani, MM; Sadeghpour, O (Dec 2014). "Efficacy of Viola odorata in Treatment of Chronic Insomnia". Iran Red Crescent Medical Journal. 16 (12): e17511. doi:10.5812/ircmj.17511. PMC 4341349. PMID 25763239. Archived from the original on 2015-05-19.
  54. ^ Klövekorn, W; Tepe, A; Danesch, U (Nov 2007). "A randomized, double-blind, vehicle-controlled, half-side comparison with a herbal ointment containing Mahonia aquifolium, Viola tricolor and Centella asiatica for the treatment of mild-to-moderate atopic dermatitis". Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther. 45 (11): 583–91. doi:10.5414/CPP45583. PMID 18077922. Archived from the original on 2015-05-19.
  55. ^ Ackerman, Diane. A natural history of the senses. New York: Vintage Books, 1991. Print.

External linksEdit