Another Blue Violet


three-lobe violet, wood violet,
early blue violet
Viola palmata, formerly V. triloba

As I’ve written before, violet ID can be tricky, because they hybridize freely and because the taxonomists are always changing the names.


With leaves like this, though, it seems a safe bet to say this is three-lobe violet. The older guidebooks name it Viola triloba, and you’ll still find references to that on-line, but per ITIS it’s now considered V. palmata.


USDA lists both V. triloba and a hybrid, V. x palmata, with different ranges, so it’s no use reporting on that, other than to say that this violet, whatever species it is, is found primarily in the eastern part of the country.

I found these about halfway up Sugarloaf Mountain, on the west side, growing by the ones or twos in patches of rue anemone.



Three Blue Violets


Violets are notoriously tricky to identify, especially the blue ones. First, some of the characteristics are rather subjective (eg “leaves somewhat rounder than other species”). Second, they are known to hybridize freely. And third, taxonomists frequently re-name them.

Nonetheless, I am reasonably confident that I have these three correct. As always, please leave a comment if you feel differently.


common blue violet
Viola sororia
(formerly V. papillonacea)

This violet is found from Quebec to Florida and east into the Great Plains, in many different habitats, including peoples’ lawns, where it’s considered a weed. I’m more likely to think of turfgrass as weeds.


marsh blue violet
Viola cucullata

The primary way to distinguish marsh blue from common blue is to consider the habitat. This group of plants was growing on a mossy mound in the middle of a stream. I’ve seen others growing right in the water. Note also that the flowers rise well above the leaves (mostly), while in common blue flowers and leaves are about the same height (mostly). Marsh blue has a range similar to common blue, though it isn’t found quite as far west or south.


ovate-leaved violet
Viola sagittata var. ovata
(formerly V. fimbriatula)

You can see that this one has a somewhat longer leaf from the previous two. Also, the habitat was drier: it was growing on a slope in an area dominated by mountain laurel, with other ericaceous species (namely Vacciniums) and two different pine species nearby. This species doesn’t range as far south as the other two, and goes west only into some of the Midwest states.

One characteristic you should not rely on for identification of blue violets: color. It can vary wildly. Have a look at this:


This is common blue violet… white form.

Two White Violets


creamy violet
Viola striata





sweet white violet
Viola blanda




It is with some trepidation that I venture into violet territory, as there are 117 species across the US, and violets are known to hybridize freely, so that identification often comes down to tiny little details.

According to the blog Mid-Atlantic Nature, nine white violets can be found in this area. A cross check with the Maryland Biodiversity Project shows that only six of these are present in the Maryland piedmont. And, the two shown in this post have some unique characteristics, so I’m fairly confident that they’ve been correctly identified.

As you can see in the pictures (if you zoom in), creamy white violet has two bearded petals, while sweet white violet has a reddish-brown stem .

Creamy violet is all over the place on Billy Goat C downstream of Carderock, with some occurrences upstream along Billy Goat B as well. I’m honestly not sure If I’ve seen sweet white violet in that area; You have to be pretty close to see the details. I saw this one plant (only this one plant) in Rachel Carson Conservation Park.

The two species have similar ranges, in most parts of the country east of the Great Plains, with V. blanda found further north and V. striata further west.

Update 5/10/16

It’s possible that the sweet white violet pictured above is actually primrose-leaved violet, V. primulifolia, a naturally occuring hybrid of V. lanceolata and V. macloskeyi. I can’t really say without better pictures.

End of March Update for the Potomac Gorge



lyre-leaved rock cress, in its favorite place



It’s a strange season. Lots of different plants are blooming, but not in the vast quantities I would expect. Several species are blooming rather early, or very early, like a full two weeks sooner than last year (not unexpected given a very warm autumn and winter).



star chickweed
quiz: how many petals are on this flower? (answer below)



On Monday, March 28, harbinger-of-spring was done. Otherwise, the plants I reported on last week are still going, and nothing has hit its peak yet.  To that list add

…quiz answer: five; each of the petals is deeply divided into two lobes, so that a single petal appears to be two