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

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

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

[photo of flower] Irregular 5-petaled yellow flower about ½ inch (to 13 mm) long at the end of a stalk arising from a leaf axil. The 2 lateral petals have small tufts of yellow hairs at the base (bearded). The lower petal has dark purple-black veins radiating from the center and forms a short spur at the back. All petals may be purple-tinged on the back. Sepals are narrowly egg-shaped to lance-linear, blunt or pointed at the tip. Flower stalks are variously hairy to hairless.

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

[photo of stem leaves] There are both stem and basal leaves, though basal leaves may be absent; color is green to gray-green. Mature leaves are up to 3 inches (to 75 mm) long, as long as or longer than wide, heart-shaped, blunt to pointed at the tip. Edges have blunt teeth and are fringed with short hairs; surfaces are hairy, more densely on the lower surface. At the base of a leaf stalk is a pair of leafy appendages (stipules) that are egg-shaped and sometimes notched at the tip. Stems are hairy, single or multiple from the base.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of developing fruit] Both petalled (chasmogamous) and petal-less, self-pollinating (cleistogamous) flowers produce fruit, in an ovoid capsule up to about ½ inch (7 to 14 mm) long, hairless to densely hairy, initially green and dangling, becoming erect when mature and drying light to medium brown. The mature capsule splits into 3 sections, each containing many orange-brown seeds 2.3 to 3 mm long.


Downy Yellow Violet is one of two yellow-flowered violets native to Minnesota, the other is Yellow Prairie Violet (Viola nuttallii), which, as its common name suggests, is a prairie species where V. pubescens is a woodland species. Other distinctions are the leaf shape, which is quite different between the two, and location within the state, with V. nuttallii rare, found only in a handful of locations near the South Dakota border, and V. pubescens common, found all across the state.

Now for the surprise: forget everything you thought you knew about V. pubescens. Dr. Harvey Ballard, the authority on North American violets, had made a case that what was considered a variable V. pubescens species should be split into two, the offshoot being Viola eriocarpa, Smooth Yellow Violet. While it may be similar in appearance to V. pubescens, it is hairless to sparsely hairy, leaves are pointed at the tip (often abruptly narrowed near the tip), stem leaves are evenly distributed, it usually has multiple stems from the base and two or more basal leaves, stipules are narrowly egg-shaped, and stems tend to be prostrate at the base during flowering and become erect in fruit. By comparison, V. pubescens is more densely hairy, leaves are more blunt to rounded at the tip, stem leaves are clustered in the upper quarter of the stem, stems are usually single from the base, it usually lacks basal leaves (rarely 1 or 2), stipules are broadly egg-shaped, and stems are all erect throughout the growing season. Ballard also notes that V. eriocarpa seems to be the more common of the two.

I dare say our images seem to be a closer match to V. eriocarpa, but sorting this out will be a priority in the coming field seasons. Note that it could be years before the existing herbarium records are all reviewed and revised distribution maps finalized. Stay tuned.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Anoka and Ramsey counties. Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka and Cook counties.


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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