Viola sagittata

Viola sagittata

Kim’s unedited notes, 12 photographs and 3 drawings of Viola sagittata

See also Notes on fritillaries

Viola sagittata, Shartlesville St Game Lands, Berks Co, PA (May 2009)
Viola sagittata, on serpentine chromium barrens, Chester Co, PA (April 1999)
Viola sagittata,with Gaultheria procumbens. Hickory Run SP, PA.
Viola sagittata ssp ovata (MCL)
Viola sagittata ssp sagittata (MCL)
Viola sagittata, chasmogamous seed pods. Lancaster Co, PA (May 2005)
Viola sagittata. Rte 322 Lancaster Co, PA (April 2003)
Viola sagittata ssp sagittata. Shartlesville, Berks Co, PA (May 2010)
Viola sagittata ssp sagittata (glabrous sepals) Hickory Run SP, PA (May 2008)
Viola sagittata (Walnut Run, Lancaster Co, PA (April 2008)
Viola cucullata x V.sagittata (Fayette Co, PA. (May 2004)
Viola sagittata var ovata (syn fimbriatula) Small Point, ME (August 2006)
Viola sagittata ssp sagittata x Viola cucullata. Berks Co, PA (May 2010)
Viola sagittata ssp ovata (x with V. hirsutula?) Non-variegated form. Middle Ck WMA, Lancaster Co, PA (April 2008)



Viola sagittata style, sketch


Viola sagittata  Ait.


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

William Aiton, 1731-1793.

‘sagittata’ means arrow-headed.


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


From Reveal, J.L. & J.S. Pringle. 1993. “Taxonomic botany and floristics,” pp. 157-192. In: Flora of North America Editorial Committee (ed.), Flora of North America north of Mexico Vol. 1. Oxford University Press, New York. The text is presented unaltered from

As president of the Royal Society, a position he assumed in 1778 and retained until his death, JosephBanks was able to direct the interests of the society into many corners of the world in search of botanical novelties. The world’s largest collection of plants lay before Solander, and he set to work describing the thousands of new species he was finding. His early death prevented his publishing much, but through the work of his successors as Banksian librarians, Jonas Dryander (1748-1810) and Robert Brown (1773-1858), many of Solander’s names were ultimately published. Unfortunately, the authorship of most of his names for American species must be credited to William Aiton (1731-1793), who, as head gardener for Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha at Kew, was the author of the three-volume Hortus Kewensis… (London, 1789), in which most of the names were formally established. Even the efforts of Francis Masson (1741-1805), one of Kew’s foremost collectors, who worked briefly in Canada, were relegated to obscurity in a similar manner.

From:  A Guide to The Wildflowers and Ferns of Kentucky by Mary E. Wharton & Roger W. Barbour, the University Press of Kentucky, p. 224:

Viola sagittata is usually found in wet meadows or woods in flat lowlands, but sometimes occurs in dry upland woods; it is frequent in the Knobs and fairly frequent in eastern, southern, and western Kentucky.  Flowers April.   ssp. ovata in sandy soil.

V. sagittata leaves vertical, ssp. ovata, leaves horizontal. (Harvey)

Seeds from Jenkins Arboretum, dark grey to black, 1.5-2.0 x 0.8-1.2 mm.

Seeds ex Missouri, dark grey to black, 1.7-2.0 x 1.0-1.2 mm.

Sagittata x sororia, Denver to PHL seeds very pale, not like sororia.  See also comments about seed colour of V. septemloba which also has pale seeds.  These could be hybrids with V. affinis.

In Serpentenite soil in quarry, near intersection of Routes 202 and 926.  In 1995 I was a little too late on 15 May.  Upright plants cf. those in 322 parking lot, horizontal.  ssp. ovata.

In Hickory Run State Park soil is very acid and moist, with Trillium undulatum, but this is ssp. ovata or a hybrid thereof. n/02/020317.htm

V. sagittata (Arrow-leaved Violet) occurs in sandy soil on eroded bayou walls (Natchez, mid-March).

Late May, 09: Viola sagittata ssp. sagittata was growing in several places, in well-drained acid sand and granite grit in Bear Brook State Park, Allenstown, New Hampshire.

Nottingham County Park, 30 May, 1999, serpentine barren.  This was a year with an early spring.  The barren is mainly a pine/smilax thicket (Pinus pungens?/Juniperus communis? reaches its southernmost location in Lancaster Co. PA) with bare serpentine exposures.  Where more moisture is present, a pine-oak (Q. marilandica and complex—the vegetatively persistent, locally abundant hybrid with Q. ilicifolia is Q. xbrittonii) or pine-shrub community prevails.  Q. marilanadica is restricted to serpentine barrens in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania.   Upright plants of Viola sagittata also, and Pycnanthemum tenuifolium.  [But, these plants stay short, or petioles stay short, so by Harvey’s separation in key of Flora of Pennsylvania, these must be ssp. ovata.]

Dr. David Millward, AGS Bull. Vol. 68, Sept 2000: Serpentinite is typically a dark green to black, fine-grained rock. The rock surfaces are lustrous and soapy to touch.  The name is derived from the serpentine minerals (hydrated magnesium and iron silicates) it contains.  Serpentinite is formed by the intense alteration of peridotite, an ultrabasic igneous rock.  Though serpentinite has low calcium levels it contains high concentrations of magnesium and iron and also, very high levels of some trace elements, particularly nickel and chromium.  Soils developed from this rock, and springs issuing from its fractures, tend to be highly alkaline.

At site south of Marticville, Steinman Farm Rd., Lancaster County, growing in open cleared power corridor.  [Mike Slater: I would expect that the rocks there would be schist. Which is what happens when shale is metamorphosed a little bit beyond Slate and before Gneiss, in terms of temperature and pressure.]  Is this acid?  This rock substrate is schist, with no Calcium because of the V. pedata growing there.  Photos taken of plant in flower and later with seed pods.  Seed colour??? These are upright plants, but still probably ssp. ovata.  No, I think they are pure ssp. sagittata (2010).

In Mineral County, West Virginia, June 15, 2006, at south end of Green Ridge growing in shale, rhizome vertical.

In ‘Violets of Maine’ by Grace F. Babb, 1946 for The ARGS bulletin, vol. 4, number 6 Nov-Dec, V. fimbriatula is a plant of dry fields and woods, usually in sandy soil.  V. sagittata prefers more open moist fields than V. fimbriatula.

From Shenandoah Appalachian Trail, Virginia, May 1991, flowers 1.5 x 1.5 cm, RHS 87A.  These flowers have a patch of white at the base of the two top petals, as well as on other three petals.

At Fort Indiantown Gap Military Reserve, NE of Harrisburg, efforts being made to protect Viola sagittata because it is host to the Regal fritillary butterfly. Route 72 north (of the PA Turnpike, Hershey exit) where it meets the Appalachian mountains.  These butterflies do not come out till June or July so not out at same time as flowers.  Caterpillars might be eating the leaves at flowering time though.  Must look for these.

Contact:  Mark Swartz, Penn State University, 717-861-2949,

Carl Gardiner said that butterflies lay eggs near violas, on the ground or on other nearby plants in summer or fall.  These eggs hatch the following spring, the caterpillars feed in May to June on the violet leaves, then pupate before emerging in summer through fall.

In same area near Fort Indiantown Gap, Mike Slater took me to a spot at Second Mountain Hawk Watch where Viola sagittata ssp. ovata was growing.  Route 72 north (of the PA Turnpike, Hershey exit), left turn on Moonshine Road where it meets the Appalachian mountains, not too far from 322.  Tuscarora Sandstone (quartzite) with Viola conspersa on the same ridge.  Dreamy dusky wing butterfly feeding on it.

At Nolde, hairs on three lowest petals of V. sagittata ssp. ovata were dense, long, thin, tapered to sharp end.  Pubescent leaves with no divisions on margins at base of leaf.  Growing in sandstone derived soil.

V.s. var. ovata (Nutt.) T.& G. (syn. V. fimbriatula), seeds dark grey, speckled brown, 1.5-1.7 x 0.9-1.0 mm.  Some from Shartlesville, PA.

V. fimbriatula  Smith–see Vol. 2, p. 1382, reclassified as V. sagittata Ait. var. ovata  (Nutt.) T. & G.  [Name of describer should be written J.E. Smith.]

James Edward Smith, 1759-1828.

Harvey Ballard says that the difference between V. sagittata ssp. sagittata and V. s. ssp. ovata is that the leaves of the former stand up straight (vertically), while the leaves of the latter lie down flat (horizontal).  On May 18, 01 I looked at the plants beside the parking area of the State Game Lands on 322, and all the leaves were vertical.  They had finished flowering.  Must look at the slides from here of the plants in flower to see if they are horizontal, or it may only be true when they are in flower and not later, in which case it is a rather confusing way to tell the difference.  Should have taken a photo of the same plants later in the season.  Went back to parking area on 322 in November 2003, and all the plants had no divisions on the base of the leaves, short ovate leaves, not elongated with obvious divisions as the ones at Hickory Run had in October, 2003.  Leaves decurrent at top of petiole (petiole winged on top half), petiole red.  So this shows that Harvey’s theory about the leaves being vertical or horizontal at flowering time isn’t consistent.  At the 322 site, the plants that are one metre up the hill from the ditch, and which are in a dry, well-drained, sunny position have inclined leaves to vertical, while the ones in the ditch photographed in the moss, had vertical leaves.   All these plants are V. sagittata ssp. ovata.  They were growing in sandy soil, of metamorphic origin, very acidic because there were kalmias growing a few feet away, also Gaultheria procumbens (Wintergreen, teaberry), Epigaea repens (Trailing arbutus) and Viola pedata, which hates lime; also V. sororia in woods and V. blanda .   Harvey said var. ovata growing in basic sand.

From my article for NARGS bulletin: Three species of blue stemless violas have divided leaves: Viola sagittata, Viola palmata and Viola pedata.  The first two have flowers closely resembling those violas with undivided leaves, while Viola pedata has distinctly different flowers.  Viola sagittata is a pubescent plant, with long, narrowly ovate leaves gradually tapered to the tip, and short side divisions at the base.  There is a smaller subspecies, Viola sagittata ssp. ovata, which used to be called Viola fimbriatula.  It differs from the species by a shorter, wider, ovate leaf, shortly narrowed to the tip, and shorter or no divisions at the base.  It grows in drier locations.  The leaves of Viola palmata are more evenly and deeply divided into from three to many lobes.  Actually, this ‘species’ is a taxonomic can of worms, enveloping Vv. brittoniana, egglestonii, esculenta, lovelliana, septemloba, stoneana, triloba, viarum, so for the time being it probably should be called Viola Xpalmata and wait for changes, but don’t hold your breath—it will take years of DNA analysis to disentangle this melange.  The degree of pubescence is very variable in different plant communities.  The two species and one subspecies described all have violet-purple flowers with a white center, obvious fine, straight hairs on the inside of the lateral petals, and a few, less obvious hairs on the lowest petal.

From Gary Sherwin: Do you remember the discussion about Viola sagittata?  I have noticed that when
I move my “fimbriatula” from a shale bed to the garden, they change from the fuzzy diminutive ground hugging form to the large-leaved excurrent [IS THERE SUCH A WORD???] form.  I do not believe that the two forms are varieties, but rather just environmental forms.  Want to talk to Harvey about this.  Have you experienced the same thing?

Answer from me:  (before I read the paragraph above). I wonder what your ‘fuzzy diminutive ground hugging form’ of V. fimbriatula looks like in the wild now (compared to spring).  Is it the same as the large-leaved excurrent form or still fuzzy diminutive ground hugging’?  You should have a look to be absolutely sure, otherwise this is a very important observation. I think I have seen the same thing, in the wild, in a population on route 332, west of Ephrata.  Do you remember that Harvey spoke with conviction that the leaves of V. fimbriatula lie flat on the ground (horizontally) while those of V. sagittata are vertical?  I went back and looked at some of my slides and saw that the same plants are horizontal at flowering but vertical later in the summer.  Also one given to me several years ago and planted in the garden (now dead).  This was before I understood that they prefer serpentine soil, or soil with a high mineral content.  I don’t know if they are only found on these soils though.  Another question for Harvey.

And I have just looked at the photos of the plants in flower on 322 (not 332 as in my first e-mail) and the leaves are horizontal!  And the photos of plants from two different locations on serpentine, the leaves at flowering are vertical!  The one on serpentine is said to be the pubescent form of V.
sagittata.  I have one photo, taken in Arkansas, of V. sagittata that is not pubescent, and is absolutely vertical.  I now think that this is a hybrid.   From photos taken in 2009, one near Shartlesville and one in NH, the leaves are more pointed, attenuate to tip, and maybe deltate in shape.  Ssp. ovata has more rounded leaf tips and more ovate leaves?  Check photos.

Harvey Ballard says that V. sagittata grows in mesic to wet-mesic margins of marshes, while V. sagittata ssp. ovata grows in droughty, well-drained places (gameland carpark on Rte. 322 Lancaster/Lebanon county border) but ssp. sagittata is on top of ridge in Appalachian Mts. near Sharlesville, and in sand near picnic tables in state park in NH.

V. sagittata ( or V. ssp. ovata) x V. affinis = V. emarginata

V. sagittata ssp. ovata (syn. V. fimbriatula) photographed in, and at the edge of, the lawn of the Ballard’s house at Small Point, Maine, [s. of Bath].  It was growing in sand, very moist, very acid.  Also there were V. pallens, V. lanceolata, V. septentrionalis, Sphagnum.  I also saw a lot of this on our previous trip to Maine.  It is in the Appalachian mountains where we walked once with David in West Virginia.  Also at Hickory Run which is not a particularly cold place but very acid with associated plants.

Plants of Viola sagittata photographed at Hickory Run State Park, Carbon County, PA, on October 19 and again on October 23 in the snow, were growing among grasses and Gaultheria procumbens (Wintergreen, Teaberry), with Kalmias, Rhododendrons, Blueberries, Hemlocks, American Beech (Fagus grandifolia), Chestnut oak (Quercus prinus), Trillium undulatum, in very moist acid soil.  Autumn leaves were yellow, lying flat on surrounding vegetation. This fits Harvey’s description of wet mesic forests above.  I also looked at the plants photographed at the very dry, sunny exposed place near tunnel under Route 476/9, but their leaf shape was very different, so must be V. s. ssp. ovata, more square in shape, not as gradually tapered to tip as for those in the wet area.  About 20,000 years ago, a giant sheet of ice at least one mile thick straddled Hickory Run.  The western part of the park, including Sand Spring Lake and Hickory Lake, were underneath the glacier.  The land to the east is higher and was not covered by the glacier, but was greatly affected by the cold climate.  Boulder Field was created in this unglaciated area.  The habitats of the unglaciated side of the park are characterized by beech and chestnut oak trees, and predominantly flat land.  American redstart, red-eyed vireo and Louisiana waterthrush are common to this habitat.

The pubescent plants at  Nottingham County Park were on very dry soil.  Peterson’s Guide says V. fimbriatula is on dry soils, and is pubescent .

Niehaus, T.F., Ripper, C.L., & Savage, V., A Field Guide to Southwestern and Texas Wildflowers (Roger Tory Peterson Field Guides), 1984.:

Stemless plant.  Leaf blade slightly divided at base, large central portion arrow-shaped.  Flowers deep violet.  5-8 cm.  Dry woods.  E. Texas, Plain States, SE.  Flowers March-April.

Atlas of the Flora of the Great Plains: Viola sagittata occurs only in a few counties in the very southeast part of the Great Plains, in se KS, eastern OK, sw MO, and two lonely counties in nw IA.  Also occurs east of this area of the Great Plains, in the middle of MO.  What is limiting its range to the north and to the west?  Cold winters, lack of moisture?  Lack of woodland cover?

On May 9, 2008, at 3:56 PM, Mike Slater wrote: It was nice to run into you yesterday.  Here are the hirsutula pics I took Last Sunday afternoon at Goathill serpentine Barrens, Southern Chester Co.

Kim Reply: Thank you for the clear pictures.  I have just looked up (again) Viola Brainerd Baird’s book that says that V. hirsutula has clavate hairs on the inside of the lateral petals.  But Harvey Ballard’s treatment of Violas in the new second edition of The Plants of Pennsylvania says that the hairs are long and thread-like and on all three lower petals. The former reference says that the plants are glabrous everywhere except for the upper leaf surface, but look at the peduncles in your pictures.  Hmm. I hope that my close-up pictures at Middle Creek show the hairs on the lowest petal but usually they don’t show up clearly unless the flower is pulled apart.

MS: Interesting, I wonder who looked at the hairs most closely? The hairs in my pic are definitely clavate and as you say the hairy peduncle is obvious too.

The only other blue violet that was in bloom at Goat Hill was V. sagittata var. ovata. There were some leaves that looked like V. sororia near the creek which was several hundred yards away. V. hirsutula and V. sagittata were up on the dry serpentine hillside under some scattered Pinus rigida.


Viola sagittata var. ovata, very hairy everywhere and V. hirsutula growing in close proximity, just as they are at Middle Creek???

Yes they were growing within five feet of each other.

Mike excellent site:  Flowering – March – May.  Habitat – Meadows, clearings, disturbed sites. Typically in drier locations.  Origin – Native to North America.  This attractive little species (V. sagittata ssp. ovata) can be found only in the mountainous region of Northeastern Alabama. The plant can be identified by its pubescent, lance-elliptic leaves (which are truncate to cordate at the base), its pubescent peduncles (which are longer than the leaves), and its blue flowers (which have bearded lateral petals). The petioles of the leaves at anthesis are shorter than or barely equaling the blades of the leaves. The stipules of the leaves are linear or sometimes fimbriate. The blades of the leaves have a few larger marginal teeth near the base.  This arrow shape (sagittate) is more pronounced in other varieties of the species.  The varietal name ovata derives from the Latin “ovat” meaning “egg-shaped” referring to the more egg-shaped leaves of this variety.  A synonym for this species is Viola fimbriatula Smith.

Reference: USGS Butterflies of America



Differences between V. villosa and V. sagittata ssp. ovata:

  • leaf colour
  • leaf shape
  • leaf position/orientation
  • plants solitary
  • long thin tapering hairs on inside of lateral and lowest petal cf. clavate