Viola rugulosa (Western Canada White Violet)

Plant Info
Also known as: Canada Violet, Rugulose Violet, Rydberg's Violet, Great Plains White Violet
Family:Violaceae (Violet)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, shade; dry to average moisture; deciduous woods, mixed forest, bluffs, ravines, creek banks, floodplains
Bloom season:April - July
Plant height:8 to 16 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

[photo of flower] Single 5-petaled flower on a naked stalk arising from a leaf axil. Flowers are ¼ to ¾ inch (12 to 24 mm) long, up to about 1 inch across, slightly irregular with 5 white petals, distinctly bright yellow at the base. The 2 lateral petals have tufts of short, white hairs at the base (bearded). The lower petal is has dark purple veins radiating from the center, and forms a short spur at the back.

[photo of sepals and purple-tinged petals] The backs of the petals are tinged pink to purple, sometimes petals are also pink-tinged on the front. Sepals are narrowly triangular to lance-linear, pointed at the tip, hairless or minutely hairy on the surface and along the edges. Flower stalks are hairless to sparsely hairy.

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

[photo of basal leaves] There are both basal and stem leaves, color is green to gray-green. Leaves are mostly heart-shaped, 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm) long and to 3 inches wide, and often abruptly tapered near the tip. Edges are scalloped or shallowly toothed, surfaces are hairy especially along veins on the underside. Basal and lower stem leaves are typically long-stalked and the blades may be wider than long.

 [photo of stem leaves] Stem leaves are typically shorter-stalked and blades become more elongated as they ascend the stem, the uppermost leaves more egg-shaped. At the base of a leaf stalk is a pair of leafy appendages (stipules) that are toothless and sharply pointed at the tip. Stems and leaf stalks are variously hairy. Dense colonies can form from elongated, horizontal stems (rhizomes) that may be above or below ground but are commonly shallowly buried.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

Both petalled (chasmogamous) and petal-less, self-pollinating (cleistogamous) flowers produce fruit, in an ovoid capsule up to ½ inch (7.5 to 12 mm) long and usually covered in short hairs. The capsule is initially green and hanging, turning light brown and becoming erect at maturity. It splits into 3 sections and contains numerous light brown seeds.


Western Canada White Violet, formerly Viola canadensis var. rugulosa, is now considered a separate species from V. canadensis (i.e. Eastern Canada White Violet), the main differences being V. canadensis does not have elongated rhizomes, and its foliage and stems are hairless to only sparsely hairy. V. rugulosa ranges from Wisconsin to the Pacific coast and V. canadensis from Wisconsin eastward, though these ranges are currently under review. Dr. Harvey Ballard, the authority on North American violets, says the taxon is still relatively poorly known and deserves further study, so this could all change sometime in the future.

Canada Violet is easily distinguished from all other the white violets in Minnesota, all of which have smaller flowers lacking the bright yellow spot and have only basal leaves, no stem leaves. When not blooming the leaves may be mistaken for Viola pubescens (Downy Yellow Violet), but the latter leaves are typically smaller, mostly wider than long, there are usually only stem leaves (no basal leaves, rarely 1), and they tend to be all in the upper ¼ of the stem, where V. rugulosa stem leaves are more evenly distributed along the stem.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Anoka, Goodhue and Hennepin counties and in her garden. Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in his gardens.


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

Posted by: Kay - Hennipin County
on: 2012-05-29 16:36:32

I have a thousand of these in my yard. Technically they're weeds, but they're so pretty I let them grow where they want to.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2012-05-30 20:04:21

They can indeed spread and form colonies, but they are native. I have some in my own yard.

Posted by: Melanie - Central
on: 2014-06-03 15:46:45

Are Canadian white violets edible?

Posted by: Starr - Minneapolis
on: 2015-05-11 15:01:49

This is the violet is problematic. I have the Downy Yellow Violets growing in clumps beside it. The problem is that it gets too big and beats out the smaller violets. I grow them for the beauty but have to limit these bigger violets to one area to allow the small ones-mostly blue or purple- room to grow.

Posted by: Andrea - SChaar's Bluff, Spring Lake Park Reserve, Dakota County
on: 2016-04-21 14:01:07

Only a few of these blooming along the walking path south of the visitor Center bridge.

Posted by: Kayleen - Minneapolis
on: 2017-05-22 13:31:49

I have a bunch of lush Canada violets growing in an area I'd like to turn into a butterfly garden with hyssop, milkweed, coneflower, blazing star, golden rod, etc. I don't want to lose the lushness of the violets but I also don't want to choke out the new native plants I'm putting in. Do I need to fully remove the Canada violets if I'm putting in the native plants. Or do they have some native plant symbiosis arrangement that can help them both thrive?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2017-05-22 14:18:13

I'm not aware of any symbiosis with Canada violet. It does easily spread by rhizomes on its own so it isn't likely adding other species to the mix will cause it to diminish. You may actually find it crowds out the other species that don't compete as well.

Posted by: Mike Palmquist
on: 2019-05-23 09:23:32

There are quite a few scattered bunches of Canadian violets blossoming now in the wooded hills between Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun

Posted by: Andrea F - Blaine, Anoka Co.
on: 2019-05-31 13:25:47

I have some in my back yard under some shrub trees (growing wild). The rest of the lot (in the area) was built on sandy soil. Thanks for the website so I could identify this plant.

Posted by: Nicole - Minneapolis
on: 2021-06-17 23:39:06

How long have these been considered native. Someone recently told me that these are invasive compared to other violets. Thanks!

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2021-06-18 07:49:46

Nicole, Canadian white violet is native but, like many other native species, can be an aggressive spreader in cultivation. I have it in my own gardens and use it as a natural ground cover. You just need to thin it out periodically. Whoever said native plant gardens are low maintenance never had one!

Posted by: jayne f krabbenhoft - north dakota, west of fargo
on: 2022-05-26 07:18:23

I just happened across a huge garden of these in my shelter belt yesterday. I have never seen them before in my life around here and I look. They are beautiful.

Posted by: Charles Argue
on: 2023-04-04 15:15:56

Evidently ITIS is behind the times on this species?

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2023-04-04 15:41:37

Charles, there are lots of changes coming to Viola, but this V. rugulosa name is not all that new. Dr. Harvey Ballard has been working on revisions for many years and the results of his research are being published this year (2023). I expect ITIS will be behind for a while.

Posted by: Lynn Barnhouse - Minneapolis
on: 2024-04-05 21:33:11

This appeared in my urban yard about 6 yrs ago. I find it spreads aggressively but can be kept in check with moderate attention. I use it as a groundcover under service berry trees along my city sidewalk. It stands up to being trampled by dogs and will bounce back after wilting and drying out completely.

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