Viola nephrophylla Greene

Viola nephrophylla, Greene

Kim’s notes, unfinished. Illustrations: 6 photographs of Viola nephrophylla, 1 pencil drawing.

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

2N=54, IPCN 86-87, Canne, J.M., 1987.

Edward Lee Greene, 1843-1915.

Viola nephrophylla. Burnt Cape, NL, Canada (July 2005)
Viola nephrophylla, note hairs on lower petal (March 2003)
Viola nephrophylla on limestone. Burnt Cape NL, Canada. (July 2005)
Viola nephrophylla. Bruce Peninsula ONT, Canada (May 2007)
Viola nephrophylla. Logan Co, UT. (June 2000)

In BC, Canada. For plant details see e-Flora BC website.

Viola xviarum Pollard [missouriensis or nephrophylla xpedatifida]

Viola nephrophylla only grows on limestone. A possible parent for V. xviarum? It has purple colour on underside of leaf in Newfoundland plants.

Herbarium specimen from Logan Canyon, Utah has clavate hairs on lateral petals. Other specimens drawn all say straight hairs, not sure about one from Newfoundland or Bruce Peninsula, best to look at photos and from memory they are straight, long and fine, maybe tapering to end.

Stemless perennial. No stolons. Flowers blue-purple with a white eye, but bluer than most purple violets RHS 88A, lowest petal has a distinct notch in the end. Hairs fine, straight, on three lowest petals but may be absent on the lowest petal, so this is a confusing characteristic (as in Logan Canyon, Utah). Leaves reniform to wide-ovate, tip rounded or slightly pointed, glabrous, sometimes rugulose, green glossy, sometimes slightly glaucous. Growing in very wet meadows, alkaline soil. Different from affinis by leaf shape and notch in end of lowest petal. ‘Nephrophylla’ means kidney-leafed in Greek (which is the same as the latin word ‘renifolia’).

In William Weber’s Flora of E.? Colorado Mtns, Vol.     , Viola sororia ssp. affinis should be Viola nephrophylla: ‘Viola affinis has one disjunct population in the Rocky Mtns of Colorado.’ In Flora of Utah, key to violas, the characteristic used to separate V. nephrophylla from Viola sororia, namely the presence of hairs on the lowest or spurred petal is unreliable. Some populations do not have hairs on the lowest petal. This was also noted by Norman Russell in his Survey …..

Up to 3000m. in Colorado.

Colorado, Summit County, 1/4 mile south of the housing development Keystone Ranch, Keystone, south of Keystone, on an area of Cretaceous (Mesozoic) Pierre Shale (limestone).   It was growing in full sun at the edge of meadows amongst willows in a depressed seepage area, wet all spring and summer at 3,100 m (approximately 10,000 feet), 12 June 1994.

Viola nephrophylla in limestone. Burnt Cape NL, Canada (July 2005)

Plants stemless, all green, mostly about 3 – 5 (-9.5) cm high. The one plant to 9.5 cm. with leaves the same size as shorter plants but longer peduncles, to 8.5 cm. Leaves reniform to widely cordate, 1.7 – 2.2 cm long x 1.7 – 2.7 cm wide, tip acute, base cordate with wide sinus, glabrous. Stipules entire, translucent, colourless to pale green, margin with glandular tipped fimbria, adnate at the base for 2mm, stipule10 mm long. Bracteoles on peduncle 1/5 down, triangular, green with a few purple spots, margins with glandular-tipped cilia, 3 mm long. Flowers 1.6 cm wide, above leaves, with hairs on inside of all petals, hairs long, thin, straggly; sepals and auricles glabrous, sepals lanceolate, relatively short and wide, sharply acute, green with a few dark spots near the tip, auricles short, closely adpressed to top of peduncle; spur white/colourless, rounded at end, 1.5 mm long; stigma, style and ovary 3.5 mm high, style and stigma colourless, stigmatic head beaked, beak elongated, upturned, ovary green; no perfume. NARGS seeds black, 1.7 x 1.0 mm. ex Denise Harges?

Seeds from Sally Walker dark grey to black, 1.5-1.8 x 1.0 mm.

Close-up photo 1:1, pollen grains on everything, they are not hairs on the leaves. For diagram of ovary and leaf see p.117 my notes. My description of the plant from Logan Canyon says stipules not adnate.

See note above that this V. affinis should be V. nephrophylla. This makes much more sense from a distribution point of view as it is in Arizona (?), Mtns. of S. California, near Tahoe, and in Utah. It also extends to the NE US states, and SE Canada, in cold areas, with soil of high pH. How is this related to Viola affinis? The leaves are different. Anything else? Perhaps V. affinis is originally from V. sororia x V. nephrophylla.

In Weber’s Rocky Mountain Flora, 1976, V. nephrophylla is listed as the common violet on bottomlands of the plains and piedmont valleys. Acaulescent, rhizomes thick, 5 mm or more, plants without stolons, petals blue or purple, usually more than 10 mm long.

Nelson, R.A. Handbook of Rocky Mountain Plants. 1969. Dale Stuart King, Tucson, Arizona:

Viola nephrophylla is a smooth, acaulescent plant with flower stalks 3 to 10 inches tall. Its leaves are heart-shaped or kidney-shaped, often purplish beneath, with finely toothed margins and sometimes short-pointed tips. The flowers are nearly an inch broad with thick spurs and violet petals which are paler and purple veined at base. This is a common spring lower of meadows and mountain valleys throughout our range.


1a. Flowers yellow; petals may be purple-tinged on back.

1b. At least some of the leaves deeply or shallowly lobed or toothed.

1c. Some leaves shallowly lobed or toothed …………………………….. Viola purpurea

2c. All leaves deeply, palmately lobed …………………………………….. Viola sheltonii

2cc. None of the leaves lobed or deeply toothed

3c. Leaves longer than wide …………………………………………………….. Viola nuttallii

3cc. Leaves rounded, heart-shaped at base …………………………………… Viola biflora

1aa. Flowers white, blue or purple

2b. Plants leafy stemmed.

4a.   Flowers blue …………………………………………………………………….. Viola adunca

4aa. Flowers white or nearly white

5a. Flowers entirely white; leaves with rounded tips ………………… Viola palustris*

5aa. Flowers with purplish tinge on back of petals …………………. Viola canadensis

2bb. Plants acaulescent

6a. Leaves not dissected ………………………………………………….. Viola nephrophylla

6aa. Leaves deeply, palmately dissected into narrow divisions …. Viola pedatifida

* Reference says V. pallens but this is incorrect.


Cache Co., Utah.


To Mary Barkworth:

After I spoke to you the night before I left Logan, I worked out from the map exactly where I had collected the Viola nephrophylla (on 29 May, 2000). It was about 3.5 miles SE of the intersection of Temple Fork road with I89, next to Temple Fork Road, where the road makes a 90 degree turn to the left to cross a stream (with a clump of Populus tremuloides on the right), then turns further to the left to almost 180 degrees before changing direction to go round a curve to the right. Following this stream down on the map, I realised it is the upper reaches of Willow Creek that runs into the Right Fork of Logan Canyon, the site of collection of another of your herbarium specimens. Most of the flowers of the Viola nephrophylla that I found had no hairs on the lowest or spurred petal. One flower did have 5 small hairs on the spurred petal. This presence of hairs on the spurred petal is the characteristic that Harvey Ballard uses in his key to separate Viola nephrophylla from V. sororia. The plant I found didn’t look anything like Viola sororia. The plant, and the flower, are the same as one I photographed in the Rocky Mountains that Bill Webber called V. affinis, except that the Colorado one had dense hairs on the spurred petal. Viola affinis is an eastern species, and has a very different leaf shape, though the flowers are very similar. Because of the geographic distribution, it would make much more sense for the Rocky Mountains viola to be V. nephrophylla. I have just reread Norman Russell’s notes on Viola nephrophylla in which he says that hairs on the spurred petal is an unreliable characteristic.

Digital Flora of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Viola nephrophylla Greene  –  Northern Bog Violet – [NF]

Table Point. Old road siding. Limestone heath. July 2, 2002.

On July 8, 2005 I found and photographed Viola neprophylla in full flower on the east side of Burnt Cape, opposite the town of Raleigh. It was growing out of limestone gravel and in cracks in a small cliff face, about half to one metre above the sea level of Ha Ha Bay. There was rich peaty soil below the limestone gravel. Also growing nearby were Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens and Calypso bulbosa. [Sphagnum moss does grow over limestone, see Newfoundland Geological, Topographic and Vegetation map. Peat in bogs, swamps and fens.]

It was also growing at Port au Choix, July 6, 2005, in a thick layer of moss, on alkaline substrate, full sun, but not where other plants were thicker, for example ground covering Juniperus horizontalis, Larix laricina, Pices sp. At this site the violet had finished flowering. Also growing in the same area were Pinguicula vulgaris, Cornus canadensis, Campanula rotundifolia, Primula mistassinica, Linnaea borealis, and Pyrola asarifolia.

My notes from Newfoundland: Acaulescent perennial. Leaves glabrous, thick, leathery, underside paler, tinged purple, petiole purple, most leaves concave, incurved side margins and leaf bases, leaf margins crenate, decurrent on length of the petiole. There were no hairs on the newest leaves as for V. clauseniana or V. nephrophylla from Logan Canyon, Utah. Specimens from beach on east coast of Burnt Cape had no purple. Everything glabrous. Stipules on new leaf, membraneous, very pale brown, short glandular-tipped cilia on margin, older stipules all brown, scarious, persistent, 0.7 cm long, x 0.2 cm wide [Keystone 1 cm x 0.15-0.2 cm, Utah 0.7 cm]. Bracteoles Auricles and sepals green, glabrous, sepals rectangular with blunt, rounded end, prominent mid-vein, very narrow hyaline margins [Utah specimen had wide, obvious hyaline margins], auricles truncate to rounded; flowers dark blue-purple with large central white ‘eye’ on bottom and lateral petals, RHS 88A, 2 cm high x 1.7 cm wide [Utah specimen 2.3 x 2.5 wide] , top two petals pointing vertically, sometimes overlapping each other, lateral petals curving downwards, lowest petal notched/emarginate at end, veined for whole length with dark purple guidelines, hairs on the inside of three lowest petals though the hairs on the keel/spurred petal were finer, very short, straight, numerous but not dense; spur large, saccate, rounded at tip/end, white or pale green, 3 mm long. Length from end of spur to end of lowest petal 2.0 cm [cf. 1.5 mm long and dark purple, but population at Keystone had spur white (colourless)]; ovary dark green, glabrous, style pale green, stigmatic head concave on top, thickened undivided ridge at back, short beaked in front [Keystone beak longer, elongated; Logan Canyon short beak]. Height of ovary, style and stigma is 0.4 cm [cf. 0.55 cm in Utah, 0.35 cm Keystone]. Capsule glabrous, green. No perfume on Utah specimen.

Douglas GW, Straby GB and Meidinger D (eds). 1991. The Vascular Plants of British Columbia, Part 3-Dicots.: Wet meadows, marshes, moist open woods and streambanks in the montane to alpine zones; common in Central and Eastern BC east of the Coast-Cascade Mountains; N to NT (Neighbouring Territories), E to NF and S to NY, OH, AR, OK, NM, AZ and CA. Notes: Two varieties occur in BC.

  1. All petals bearded ……………. var. cognata (Greene) C.L. Hitchc.
  2. Only the lower three petals bearded ……….. var. nephrophylla

Variety nephrophylla is the more commonly occurring variety but any differences in the distribution of the two varieties in the province remains to be established. The ‘V. nephrophylla’ complex is in need of a critical revision. In the key it is characterized by having stipules not conspicuous, not adnate, glabrous leaves, two lateral petals and the lowest (spur) petal bearded (sometimes all five bearded), sepals not ciliate.

Peterson Field Guide says: V. nephrophylla has three lower petals bearded, flowers more blue than other species, not surmounting the leaves. Bogs, cool wet spots, shores. Canada south to Great Lakes, n. New York, w. and n. New England. Flowers May to July.


Zurich herbarium: Specimens from Herbarium Grant 1928 had ovate leaves, not kidney-shaped. Also specimen from Canada, James Bay, collected Baldwin (#1418) 15-19 June, ‘45? [not sure of my writing for the date, and does not say if it was 1845 or 1945.]

From Verna E. Pratt ‘Wildflowers along the Alaska Highway: Viola nephrophylla is a slightly taller species, 4 – 5 inches (10 to 12.5 cm), having very few leaves and flowers and found growing in very wet areas. Found only at Laird Hot Springs, British Columbia, and late-blooming, in July.

Hultén E., Flora of Alaska and Neighboring Territories, Stanford University Press, California, 1968, introduction p. xx: Laird Hot Springs, British Columbia), situated slightly outside the SE corner of the map [of Alaska used by Hultén in his book], is apparently a northern outpost locality for several southern species. Two of these species are V. nephrophylla Greene and V. rugulosa Greene. [Is this further south than the northern tip of Newfoundland?].

V. nephrophylla is also recorded as being collected from Arizona and New Mexico.

See Brainerd for the complete, diverse range of V. nephrophylla. He doesn’t list V. clauseniana. Argue for and include V. clauseniana as a variety of V. nephrophylla because it is locally restricted to Zion National Park.

Denise Harges said that she got her plants of V. nephrophylla from We-Du, skinny little pale lavender flowers in spring and then later in summer it would send up rather large seed pods out of nowhere. Its leaves were tiny and kidney shaped.

Niehaus, T.F., Ripper, C.L., & Savage, V., A Field Guide to Southwestern and Texas Wildflowers (Roger Tory Peterson Field Guides), 1984: Stemless plant. Leaves broad, kidney-shaped to heart-shaped. Petals deep blue-violet with white hairs at base. Three lower petals well-bearded, veined. 5-15 cm high. Shady mountain forests. SW, NE Texas, Rocky Mountains. Flowers March-May.

Atlas of the Flora of the Great Plains: Viola nephrophylla has been recorded from the north-east corner of the Great Plains, and less frequently in a band through the middle, probably greatly reduced in distribution because of agricultural cultivation. [Montana, North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado]. Alkaline soils, not restricted by cold temperatures as is growing in northern Minnesota, and Canada. Must not be restricted by dry or hot conditions because it grows through the middle of the Great Plains, but not very frequent. Also in NE Utah, but this is cooler, spring is much later, in foothills of Rock Mountains.

Distribution: Throughout Canada and southward in the eastern United States to Iowa and Illinois in the west to West Virginia in the east. Also occurs throughout most of the central and western United States.

Habitat: Northern Bog Violet is primarily a species of the northern taiga forest in bogs, along lake shores, and other wet spots.

Similar Species: Northern Bog Violet is similar to Marsh Blue Violet. The flowers of Marsh Blue Violet usually rise above the level of the leaves, but those of Northern Bog Violet usually do not. The flowers of Northern Bog Violet are bluer than those of Marsh Blue Violet.[?] Northern Bog Violet is a more northern species than Marsh Blue Violet.

May 20,2003:

From the specimen of Viola clauseniana observed in Zion yesterday, the differences between this and V. nephrophylla are:

  1. No hairs on inside of any petals
  2. Peduncles and petioles longer at flowering
  3. Bracteoles lower
  4. Leaf shape
  5. Spur colour, but cf. specimen collected at Keystone, is same colour
  6. End of lowest petal truncate to only very slightly emarginate


  1. Colour same as specimen from Salt Lake City, Denise Harges, 88A
  2. Flower shape
  3. Stipules, some slightly adnate especially lower ones
  4. Margin crenations
  5. Other than newest leaves, everything glabrous
  6. Short sepals, ending bluntly, auricles rounded, adpressed or nearly so
  7. Leaves shiny underneath
  8. Ovary, style, stigmatic beak.
  9. Bracteoles curved, separate from peduncle
  10. Hairs on newest/youngest leaves top surface only also observed by Brainerd for V. nephrophylla!


From Harvey Ballard: As you pointed out, V. nephrophylla varies a lot in the presence/absence of a beard on the lowest petal–but neither it nor any other “stemless blue” violet known in North America has ever been found completely lacking petal beards. While the Zion violet might be construed as a “mutant” in that regard, there are also other tendencies that suggest it’s not otherwise just a weird V. nephrophylla. But it would be wonderful to double-check the chromosome count to see how far off Baker was. The DNA sequence data also did not place V. clauseniana very close to V. affinis or V. cucullata, two of the two entire-leaved SBs [stemless blues] I would have thought to be pretty closely related to V. nephrophylla.

From my notes on visit to herbarium of Utah State University, May 2001:  From Utah State University herbarium collection, all specimens of V. nephrophylla have pointed leaves, none has reniform leaves. The herbarium specimens of V. clauseniana have leaves that are very similar in shape to V. nephrophylla only slightly more elongated in some specimens. I don’t see enough difference between these to justify a difference. BUT MUST LOOK AT THE STIPULES, ADNATE OR NOT? [Yes, slightly]. The only leaf specimen of V. clauseniana that is really different is the type specimen, collected in the shade, on the photocopied sheet given to me by Margaret Malm.

Ezra Brainerd, Notes on New England Violet – II, Rhodora, vol 7, 1905: Ovoid cleistogamous flowers on slender ascending or horizontal peduncles 2-4 c. long. The petals are all more or less hairy; the sepals ovate or oblong, obtuse; the later leaves cordate, obtuse, obscurely crenate, glabrous. These plants collected at Cimarron River, western Colorado, and in NE Wyoming closely resemble the eastern specimens collected at that stage of growth. Occasionally produces chasmogamous flowers in autumn, sometimes poorly developed [unlike other violet species].

Brainerd’s full description:  Viola nephrophylla Greene. Glabrous, but under a lens often disclosing minute stiff white hairs n the upper surface of aestival leaves, and occasionally on petioles and veins beneath; earliest leaves orbicular or slightly reniform, later leaves cordate-deltoid or broadly cordate, obtuse, obscurely crenate-serrate, 3-6 cm wide; flowers violet, on peduncles exceeding the leaves, spurred petals somewhat bearded, the later densely bearded, and often the two upper with scattered hairs; sepals ovate to lanceolate, obtuse or often rounded; cleistogamous flowers on short and recurved or prostrate peduncles, ovoid, producing green oblong capsules 5-8 mm long. In wet, calcareous sites, eastern Quebec, Ontario, Maine, Vermont.

Viola nephrophylla style, sketch

Viola nephrophylla Atlantis Fritillary, Mormon Fritillary, Nokomis fritillary.

Mormon Fritillary (Speyeria mormonia [Boisduval])

Wing span: 1 1/2 – 2 3/8 inches (3.8 – 6.1 cm).

Identification: Small, with large rounded antennal clubs. Upperside tawny to orange-brown; male with no black scales on veins. Underside of hindwing orange-brown; base sometimes slightly darker or greenish. Spots are usually silvered.

Life history: Males patrol near the ground in open areas for females. Eggs are laid singly on leaf litter near host plants. Caterpillars hatch but do not feed, hibernating until spring when they eat the host leaves.

Flight: One flight from June-September.

Caterpillar hosts: Violets including Viola adunca, V. nuttallii, V. nephrophylla, and V. palustris.

Adult food: Nectar from a variety of flowers including goldenrod.

Habitat: Mountain meadows and fell-fields, moist prairie valleys, subarctic forest openings.

Range: Western mountains from southern Alaska south and east to Manitoba and the Dakotas; south to central California, eastern Nevada, southeastern Arizona, and northern New Mexico. Found in all of Utah (from map).

Conservation: Not usually of concern.


Opler, P. A. and G. O. Krizek. 1984. Butterflies east of the Great Plains. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. 294 pages, 54 color plates.

Opler, P. A. and V. Malikul. 1992. A field guide to eastern butterflies. Peterson field guide #4. Houghton-Mifflin Co., Boston. 396 pages, 48 color plates.

Scott, J. A. 1986. The butterflies of North America. Stanford University Press, Stanford, Calif. 583 pages, 64 color plates.

Tilden, J. W. 1986. A field guide to western butterflies. Houghton-Mifflin Co., Boston, Mass. 370 pages, 23 color plates.

Author: Jane M. Struttmann

Reference for above information is website: USGS Butterflies of N. America: Nokomis Fritillary (Speyeria nokomis [W. H. Edwards])

Wing span: 2 1/2 – 3 1/8 inches (6.3 – 7.9 cm).

Identification: Upper-side of male brownish orange with darkened wing bases and dark markings. Sub-marginal chevrons do not touch the marginal line. Upper-side of female black; outer half of wing with cream-colored spots. Both sexes have hind-wing below with black-bordered silver spots.

Life history: Males patrol for receptive females, who walk on the ground to lay single eggs near host plants. Unfed, first-stage caterpillars hibernate; in the spring they feed on leaves of the host.

Flight: One brood from late July-September.

Caterpillar hosts: Viola nephrophylla.

Adult food: Flower nectar, including that from thistles.

Habitat: Moist meadows, seeps, marshes, streamsides.

Range: East-central California, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado south through Arizona and New Mexico into Mexico.

Conservation: Several populations are lost due to draining of habitat or development. All remaining populations should be conserved.

Silver-bordered Fritillary (Boloria selene [Denis & Schiffermüller])

Wing span: 1 3/8 – 2 1/8 inches (3.5 – 5.4 cm).

Identification: Upperside orange with black markings. Underside of hindwing with rows of metallic silver spots; postmedian spots small and black.

Life history: Males patrol wet areas for females. Eggs are laid singly near host plants. Caterpillars feed on leaves; third-stage caterpillars hibernate.

Flight: One flight from June-July in the north, two to three flights from May-September in the east.

Caterpillar hosts: Violets including Viola glabella and V. nephrophylla.

Adult food: Favorite nectar sources are composite flowers, including goldenrod and black-eyed susans.

Habitat: Wet meadows, bogs, marshes.

Range: Holarctic. Central Alaska southeast through Canada south of the taiga; northern United States from central Washington south along Rocky Mountains to northern New Mexico; east to Illinois, Virginia, and Maryland.