Viola nuttallii (Yellow Prairie Violet)

Plant Info
Also known as: Nuttall's Violet
Family:Violaceae (Violet)
Life cycle:perennial
  • State Threatened
Habitat:sun; dry, sandy, gravelly soil; prairies
Bloom season:April - May
Plant height:2 to 4 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] Flowers are slightly irregular and solitary at the end of a naked stalk, ½ to ¾ inch across, 5 yellow petals with dark purplish lines at the base of the lower petals that act as nectar guides. The 2 lateral petals may be hairless or have a few short hairs at the base (slightly bearded). The backs of the upper petals are often tinged purple.

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

[photo of leaves] Leaves are lance to egg-shaped, up to 2½ inches long, usually at least 3 times as long as wide, blunt or pointed at the tip and often abruptly tapering at the base, toothless, with short hairs all around the edge and on the leaf stalk. Leaves appear to be mostly basal, though the flowering stems arise from leaf axils near the base of the plant with multiple stems arising from the underground rhizomes.


One of two yellow violets in Minnesota, this rare species is found on prairie moraines while Downy Yellow Violet (Viola pubescens) is a common woodland species.  According to the DNR, Yellow Prairie Violet was first discovered in Minnesota in 1981, not that long ago, and classified as a Threatened species in 1996 due to its rarity in the state. Its preferred habitat is also the preferred type of site for gravel mining and/or grazing, which puts the species at risk. When we went in search of it ourselves, we were disappointed to find most of the sites where it had been previously found were no longer there—they had all been turned to pasture or industrialized with nary a native species left. Luckily the DNR had the foresight to snatch up some land in western Lac Qui Parle county where this little gem still has a chance to thrive.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka and Peter M. Dziuk taken in western Lac Qui Parle County.


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

Posted by: janie - Northern Washington Co.
on: 2014-05-20 18:10:32

Found this beautiful flower today in nature park. Where can I submit a photo of it?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2014-05-20 19:17:42

Janie, you would not have found Viola nuttallii in Washington County because it is a rare species only known to be in a few locations in 3 western counties. What you saw was the other yellow violet, Viola pubescens. Notice the leaves are quite different, as is the woodland habitat.

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