Viola selkirkii (Great-spurred Violet)

Plant Info
Also known as: Selkirk's Violet
Family:Violaceae (Violet)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, shade; cool, moist woods and ravines
Bloom season:May
Plant height:2 to 6 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:none
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 hairless stem. Flowers are about ½ inch across, blue-violet, with 5 petals, the 2 side petals hairless at the base (beardless), the lower petal white at the base with dark purple lines that act as nectar guides.

[photo of spur] The lower petal ends in a large spur at the back, about ¼ inch long and rather broad. The 5 sepals are sharply pointed and tinged reddish purple. Petal-less, self-pollinating (cleistogamous) flowers on erect stems develop after the blue-violet flowers finish blooming.

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

[photo of leaf] Leaves are all basal, broadly heart-shaped, pointed or rounded at the tip, with scalloped edges and a deep, narrow gap (sinus) between the basal lobes. The lobes often touch or overlap. The upper leaf surface is hairy, the lower surface and leaf stalk are hairless. Leaves are about 1 inch long at flowering time, growing larger as the plant matures. The flowering stem is often tinged red and is leafless but with scale-like bracts on the upper half.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a green to purplish black, round to oval capsule that splits into 3 sections. Inside the capsule are numerous tan colored seeds.


Distinguishing the blue/purple violets can be challenging. Things to look at are whether the flowers are bearded, whether there are leaves on the flowering stem, whether leaves are hairy and to what degree, and the general shape of the leaves. Great-spurred Violet has fairly distinctive leaves that are basal only, hairy only on the upper surface and have the deep, narrow sinus at the base, the 2 basal lobes often touching or overlapping even when the leaves are flattened. It is also the only beardless blue/purple violet in Minnesota with heart-shaped leaves, though violets are known to hybridize like crazy and it's possible some offspring of a mixed marriage may have some or all of these characteristics. Habitat can be another indicator, with Great-spurred Violet typically found in cool, moist woods and ravines, often growing in moss-covered crevices or on rotting logs.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka and Peter M. Dziuk taken in Aitkin County.


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