Viola affinis, Le Conte

Viola affinis  LeConte.

Kim’s notes, re-arranged not edited. Illustrations: 8 photographs of Viola affinis and 4 drawings (3 of Kim’s pencil drawings and notes

Small stemless perennial, 5-12 cm high.  Rhizome small ascending to vertical.  Leaves narrowly ovate, tip acuminate, base cordate, glabrous, margins denticulate, 3- 4cm long; stipules colourless to scarious, glabrous, free, margins serrate, 8 mm.  Petiole glabrous.  Flowers pale violet, white centre, green throat, dark purple guidelines on spurred petal, usually some veining on all petals, 1.5–2.0 cm across; sepals sharply acute; auricles short; long straight hairs on inside of three lowest petals; spur purple 2mm.  Seed pods few, spotted purple, glabrous or pubescent, on thin ascending peduncles; mature seeds pale brown, 1.5-1.9 x 1.0-1.2 mm.  2N=54.  In forests, usually moist, under oaks and alders.  Canada, Quebec to Ontario.  Central and eastern USA, Mass. to Florida.  Very hardy, easy to grow from seed. (Revised AGS description. )

TM: Section Nosphinium, subsect. Boreali-Americanae [NEW classification, 2010].

Boreali-Americanae Group according to Harvey’s ‘Violets of Michigan’.

‘Affinis’ means ‘allied to, akin to, having an affinity with’.

Major John Eatton LeConte (1784-1860) Plant Images:

Plant Synonyms:

Viola chalcosperma Brainerd

Viola rosacea Brainerd

Viola sororia Willd. ssp. affinis (Le Conte) R.J. Little

Viola sororia Willd. var. affinis (Le Conte) McKinney

Viola affinis (MCL)


Eastern half of north America. AL, AR, CT, DC, IL, IN, KY, LA, MA, ME, MI, MO, MS, NC, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, SC, VT, WI, WV. Map also shows Texas but list does not.

North eastern and mid-west America. Pale mauve to purple flowers, usually white centre, several distinct short dark blue guidelines, lowest petal longer than laterals, sometimes curled inwards and appearing narrow, end of lowest petal rounded; hairs long, fine, straight, (???clubbed ), hairs on inside of three lowest petals, but sometimes those on the lowest petal are not easily visible. Leaves glabrous, not shiny and slightly glaucous, elongated. Flowers later than V. sororia [?, not in 2005, both about the same]. Dies down later in late summer, check notes. Plant smaller than V. sororia in summer, never gets as large as V. sororia (?? Mike Slater’s one). Chasmogamous pods on green peduncles (+/- a little purple), with recurved sepals with wide obvious hyaline margins. Seed pods are usually glabrous, green plus some purple spotting, but sometimes there are pubescent pods. Cleistogamous seed pods on thin, dark purple pedicels, shorter than petioles, seed pods spotted purple. Soil neutral to acid. Alkaline at Haines’ Station but this population had clavate hairs [and markings of V. cucullata]?

Viola affinis pubescent chasmogamous seed pod. (Form mentioned by Viola Brainerd Baird) Mt. Cuba Center, Delaware Co, DE (May 2009)
Viola affinis, leaf of hairy seed pod (chasmogamous) form. Mt Cuba Center, Delaware Co, DE (May 2009)

Landon McKinney in 1992 classified this as a variety of V. sororia, though he did not mention the hairs on the three lowest petals. He classified V. langoisii (which has clavate hairs on three lowest petal) in synonymy under V. sororia.   Harvey Ballard in The Michigan Botanist, 1994, kept V. affinis as a species, with V. langoisii in synonymy under V. affinis.   In the key Ballard describes affinis as having long thread-like hairs, spurred petal densely bearded within.   The discrepancy between straight hairs and clavate hairs is not solved.   Gleeson & Cronquist do not mention the type of hairs. Peterson delineates V. cucullata from all other blue acaulescent violas because it has clubbed hairs, i.e. V. affinis does not. Comes into flower one to two weeks later than Viola sororia.

From my NARGS article:  [At flowering] Viola affinis, Viola hirsutula and Viola villosa are smaller plants, have leaves longer than wide [V. hirsutula may have leaves as wide as long], and hairs on the inside of the three bottom petals. Viola affinis has straight hairs while those of Viola hirsutula are clubbed. The flower of Viola affinis is a paler lilac, the leaves are only lightly pubescent. The top of the leaves of Viola hirsutula are densely covered with short stiff hairs, and the purple flowers do not open as fully as other species. Closely related to Viola hirsutula is Viola villosa which differs only by having pubescence on both upper and lower leaf surfaces [wrong! more similar to V. sagittata var. ovata, and leaves like velvet, purple]. The latter two species grow very close to the ground, in dry or sandy open places. Their leaves sometimes are variegated with a paler silver-green in between the dark veins on the top, purple underneath [wrong again, see V. villosa].

As the flowers of V. affinis age, the four top petals turn backwards [recurved] to give the flower a characteristic appearance.

Viola affinis, showing shorter hairs on lowest petal, and a few on top petal. Wynnewood, PA (April 2005)

The peduncle of the cleistogene of V. affinis is shorter than the petioles and therefore is under the leaves, purple; pod spotted purple, small, ovate; auricles on end of sepals are short, sepals close on pods. Chasmogenes have longer peduncles, so pods equal to just above leaves. Seeds pale brown, buff, cf. V. sororia very dark grey to black.

Rhizome of V. affinis is vertical, but V. sororia rhizome is horizontal.

V. affinis LeConte. (V.) Small stemless perennial, 5 -12 cm high. Rhizome small ascending to vertical. Leaves narrowly ovate, tip acuminate, base cordate, glabrous, margins denticulate, 3 – 4 cm long; stipules colourless to scarious, glabrous, free, margins serrate, 8 mm. Petiole glabrous. Flowers pale violet, white centre, green throat, dark purple guidelines on spurred petal, usually some veining on all petals, 1.5 – 2.0 cm across; sepals sharply acute; auricles short; hairs on inside of three lowest petals; spur purple 2mm. Seed pods few, spotted purple, glabrous or pubescent, on thin ascending peduncles; mature seeds pale brown, 1.8-1.9 x 1.0-1.2 mm. 2N = 54. Found in swamps and wet lowlands under oaks and alders. Canada, Quebec to Ontario. Central and eastern USA, Mass. to Florida. Very hardy, easy to grow from seed. Description for AGS Encyc.

  1. A51(i): Specimen from Oklahoma, E. of Davis, Lake of the Arbuckles, Arbuckle Mtns., Murray County, end March, 1997: Horizontal rootstock, but brown, like sororia much thinner. Leaves small dull, thick, glabrous dark green, newest largest leaves longer than wide, with acute tip, 3.3 x 2.3 cm, early leaves as long as wide and obtuse at tip, truncate to slightly cordate at base, 3.0 x 2.4 cm, wide sinus. Large pale flowers, clavate hairs on lateral and spurred petals [should be straight, thin, long]. Stigma, style and ovary 0.5 mm high, ovary green, glabrous, stigma and style colourless, stigmatic head beaked , beak turned upwards. Spur purple, saccate in section, rounded. Sepals with hyaline margins, glabrous, auricles not adpressed, glabrous. Peduncle 1.5 x length of petiole, so large flowers above leaves. Stipule colourless to scarious, glabrous, toothed on margin, 0.8 mm. Petiole slightly winged at top, decurrent, glabrous. Growing in lower, damper areas, under trees, woodland, richer soil. Mtns. max 2,000 ft (620m). Granite rocks.
  2. A51 (i): Larger leaved plant found E. of Ada, OK had huge paler flowers with straight hairs on lateral and spurred petal, otherwise same as one above. Slides are of this plant.
  3. A51 (i): Another plant was glabrous on top of the leaf, teeth on the margin much more pronounced, lower surface veins and lamina pubescent, veins very pubescent, also petiole. Flowers were darker in colour, more like sororia colour, flowers sororia size. Hybrid with V. missouriensis.

 Slide of V. affinis from New Orleans has clavate hairs. ? any notes??

Slide of V. affinis from Haines Station has clavate hairs (= hybrid), ovary green. p. A64 finish description. Soil at Haines Station is alkaline, because Viola eriocarpa is growing there. The soil in our garden is probably close to circumneutral because Spice Bush is growing here naturally.

V. affinis from Radnor lawn, p A 51: Vertical rootstock cf. V. sororia which has a horizontal rootstock, (cf. Arbuckles above), old leaf bases from previous years on rhizome green; petiole 3.4 cm; stipule long and narrow, pale green, glabrous, not adnate, 0.9cm x 0.1 cm; leaves thin, shiny on both surfaces (cf. Arbuckles specimen), 3.2 cm long x 2.5 cm wide,ovate, tip acute, base cordate, sinus medium; upper leaf surface veins pubescent only, few hairs on margin, more on basal lobes; lower surface glabrous.   Peduncle 9 cm, green plus purple at top, below all green, few scattered hairs, mostly glabrous. Bracts midway, not opposite, green plus a few spots purple, glabrous, 0.25cm. Sepals plus auricles green plus purple, 0.6 cm, sepals with hyaline margins and hairs on side margins; auricles with few hairs on margin, not close to peduncle. Flowers later that V. sororia, RHS # 91B – 88C, fl. 1.6 cm wide x 1.8 cm long, hairs on lateral petals and spurred petal; hairs thin, straight.

Viola affinis (grown in Radnor PA garden. Plant from Mike Slater. Colour corrected 82A filter. (April 2004)
Viola affinis, cleistogamous pod, Radnor PA garden (April 2004)

Also notes p. 22, 2, 14, 51, 78, 9, 31, 33, 75, 78.

Also The Michigan Botanist, Oct, 1994, Harvey Ballard, Vol 33 # 4: The Violets of Michigan, pp 138, 139, 140, 141, 142, KEY, 179 – 181.

Distribution: Found throughout eastern and central North America.

Habitat: most commonly found along the banks of streams and creeks or on the surrounding floodplain.

Flowering period: April to May.

Similar Species: similar to Common Blue Violet. However the leaves are more triangular and elongate with an acute apex. The lower petal is always bearded, but only rarely so in Common Blue Violet. most resembles New England Blue Violet. New England Blue Violet is covered with fine hairs and the flower petals are darker and have a reddish tint.

Peterson Field Guide says three lowest petals bearded, leaves narrower than V. papilionacea (= sororia), with more tapering tips. Meadows, streambanks. Wisconsin to w. New England and south in mts. Flowering April-May.

Best is drawing of plant from the side lawn of Tom & Jenny’s house in Wynnewood, but I don’t have a slide of this [yes, I do now!]. Good description on the page with the drawing. Seeds of this 1.5-1.6 x 1.0- 1.1 mm, including colourless elaisome, not as large as for V. septentrionalis, this to about one quarter of the seed length, seed capsule surface pale cream with light brown glandular spots, or see capsule surface very pale brown when it is more difficult to see the glandular spotting. Very similar to V. affinis but seeds not tending to olive green. Very similar to V. novae-angliae.

For V. novae-angliae, distribution is one of the clues to species identifiication.

Characteristics of V. nove-angliae:  long-ovate leaves, no hairs on sepal margins, far northern and n-e location, large white ‘eye’, hairs on 3 lowest petals

compare with V. cucullata:  long-ovate leaves, bluer flowers, hooded markings, clavate hairs on two lateral petals only

Viola affinis, with cleistogenes, Delaware Co, PA garden (May 2009)
Viola affinis, cleistogene, Radnor PA garden (May 2009)


and V. hirsutula: hairs on 3 lowest petals, hirsute upper leaf surface, rounded to slighly pointed leaves

V. affinis: long-ovate leaves, pointed, hairs on 3 lowest petals, glabrous upper leaf surface, paler flowers

Also in Arizona: V. palustris, adunca, purpurea, nephrophylla, nutallii, affinis?? What is this really?

above info and below from: [reached by Google images Viola umbraticola]

[Viola affinis: PLANT: 3-25 cm tall. LEAVES: petioles 5 23 cm long; midseasonal leaf blades cordiform to very widely ovate, 10 45 mm long, 1.5 7 mm wide, glabrous but occasionally strigose-pubescent at lead base, ciliate or not. INFLORESCENCES: pedicels to 17 cm long. FLOWERS: sepals to 8 mm long; sepal auricles of cleistogamous flowers elongated; petals deep blue violet; lowest petals (including spur) 10 19 mm long, the spur blunt, ca 5 mm long, 3 mm wide, straight; cleistogamous pedicels ascending. NOTES: See also parent taxon. Wet or damp soil along creeks and streams, and shady hillsides of coniferous forests: Apache, Cochise, Coconino, Gila, Graham, Greenlee, Mohave, Pima, Santa Cruz, Yavapai cos; 1200 2900 m (4000 9500 ft); Mar Jul; AK (Yukon), w U.S. to IA, WI to ME; Can. Often confused with V. adunca which has branching stems and V. umbraticola which inhabits dry sites. Mistakenly called V. nephrophylla Greene by Kearney and Peebles. REFERENCES: Little, R. John. 2001. Violaceae. J. Ariz. – Nev. Acad. Sci. Volume 33(1).]


In May, and again at the beginning of June, I found moth eggs on the under side of two leaves of Viola affinis. I photographed the eggs, hatched them, and fed them on viola leaves. They have developed into a caterpillar that is very common in my garden, hairy two coloured, black on both ends and rusty brown colour in the middle. As they have grown, some of the caterpillars have become all brown. These caterpillars prefer the leaves of V. affinis to the leaves of V. sororia or V. macloskeyi ssp. pallens. Mike Slater has identified these as Wooly Bears = Isia isabella = Isabella Moth (Family Arctiidae = Tiger Moths). 2 Generations a year. Second Generation of the year over-winters as the caterpillar. Familiar since colonial times as the “Woolly Bear,” this bristly, black and rusty-brown caterpillar is often seen crossing roads and paths on warm days in late fall, looking for a safe place to over-winter. According to superstition, the amount of black in the caterpillar’s coating forecasts the severity of the coming winter. Actually, the coloration indicates how near the caterpillar is to full growth before autumn weather forces it to seek a winter shelter. Moth length 1 5/8 – 2”, 1 3/4″, forewings orange-yellow to yellow-brown, with rows of small black spots; hindwings lighter, body rusty orange, nocturnal. Meadows; widespread. Eats dandelions, plantains, low-growing weeds, and many others. The moths that I grew were 7/8” long (=2.2cm), much smaller than written above. Is the measurement above incorrect, or were mine stunted because of being in captivity? Photos of eggs, caterpillars, cocoons with pupae, and moths.


Viola affinis, Kim’s pencil drawing and notes (Wynnewood, PA)


Viola affinis – Kim’s pencil drawing of plant with cleistogene
Viola affinis style, sketch