The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc.

Plants of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States


Common Name
Macloskey's Violet (Small White Violet, Smooth White Violet, Northern White Violet)


Scientific Name
Viola macloskeyi F.E.Lloyd


Plant Family
Violet (Violaceae)

Garden Location
Historical - not extant


Prime Season
Spring flowering



Macloskey's Violet is a small perennial violet of moist places, stemless, with the flowering scape rising 1 to 4 inches high.

Leaves are all basal, rising directly from the root on smooth stems that are much longer than the leaf. The leaf is ovate to almost circular, the tip blunt to rounded, the base broadly to shallowly heart-shaped, the margins entire to shallowly crenate (low rounded teeth). Both surfaces are smooth, the veins palmate; leaves become larger after flower maturity.

The inflorescence is a solitary flower atop a leafless scape, 1 to 4 inches high.

The flowers of the Violet family are are two types. Those that form an open flower are called "chasmogamous" (open marriage) and those that never open are called "cleistogamous" (closed marriage). Both types are bisexual (perfect) and set seed but at different times.

Flowers: The fragrant chasmogamous flowers have 5 white petals, arranged in typical violet family fashion, with two held upright, 2 laterals and the lower petal projecting forward and forming a nectar spur rearward, which is only 1 to 2.5 mm long. The laterals and lower petal have purplish nectar guidelines, most on the lower. The laterals usually have a small amount of beard - fine short hairs, but not obscuring the inside of the flower. All petals are showy, especially the lower. The sepals of the calyx number 5, are ovate to lanceolate and shorter than the petals. The five stamens have very short and thin filaments. Each stamen has a dorsal appendage and the five appendages cohere tightly to form a hollow cone around the central section of the single style which rises from a 3 sectioned ovary. The style head (tip - stigma area) is not bearded. In the violets, two the stamens have filaments that are spurred with nectaries and extend into the petal spur.

The cleistogamous flowers are not produced until after the tree canopy is leafed out - May to September - that is the time after the open flowers have matured. They are smaller and appear on separate stems. These form an erect seed capsule. In most violets the cleistogamous flowers produce the abundance of seed.

Seed: Pollination of the open flowers is usually by bees but these flowers rarely produce seed. Instead seed is produced by the cleistogamous flowers in an ovoid capsule. Seeds are light brownish and small, 1 - 1.5 mm long.


Habitat: Macloskey's Violet has a rhizomatous root system composed of a slender rhizome. In addition to reproduction from seed, thin stolons are produced which will root at nodes. These enable the plant to form new groups even if seed does not set. It is found in wet to moist sunny locations such as marshes, bogs, swampy woods and riparian areas.

Names: This violet has had a contortion of names over the years. It began as V. macloskeyi, then was considered as a subspecies of V. pallens, then back to V. macloskeyi as subsp. pallens (Banks ex Gingins) with a second subspecies divided off as subsp. macloskeyi. Today authorities such as Flora of North America, based on the work of McKinney and Russell in 2002, no longer recognize the separate subspecies as unique and we are back to the original name given by Lloyd, although the University of Minnesota herbarium still publishes as var. pallens. The older name of V. pallens has been integrated into V. macloskeyi. In addition V. rotundiflora var. pallens (Banks ex Gingins) was also reassigned here.

The author name for the plant classification - 'F.E. Lloyd' refers to Francis Ernest Lloyd (1868 - 1947) American Botanist who worked at a number of Schools and Universities including Williams College, Pacific University, Columbia University. He was Professor of botany at the Alabama Polytechnic from 1906-1912 and then to McGill in Montreal. He was co-author of The Teaching of Biology in the Secondary Schools - 2 editions, wrote several published papers and contributed to the Journal Erythea, published by the University of California, Berkeley.

The genus Viola is the very old Latin word for sweet scented flowers. The species name, macloskeyi , is an honorary, named by Lloyd for George Macloskey, professor of biology (1874-1906) of the College of New Jersey, Princeton, where Lloyd had received his degrees. Lloyd discovered the species in the Cascade Mountains southeast of Mount Hood in the Summer of 1894 and published the description in the Journal Erythea in May 1895.

Comparisons: There are 5 species of stemless white flowered violets in our area.
1). Those that have narrow lance shaped, linear or narrowly elliptic leaves, blades 3 to 7x long as wide, tapering to the stem and not lobed at the base, very fine teeth ending in distinct glands, long slender stolons present, are usually the Lanceleaf Violet, V. lanceolata.
2). When the leaves are more elliptic or narrowly ovate, bases more widely tapering to truncate or even sub-heart-shaped, blades only 1.5 to 3x long as wide, margins crenate, sometimes with fine glands, lateral petals with or without beards you probably have V. primulifolia.

The next 3 have leaves that are broadly ovate to kidney-shaped, with heart-shaped bases, lateral petals beardless or nearly so. When the lateral petals are beardless or with only a few hairs, the leaves small, ovate to kidney-shaped, smooth or with a few lower surface hairs, a little longer than wide with blunt to rounded tips on mature leaves, it is either V. macloskeyi or V. renifolia.

3 & 4). The former has thin stolons, the latter none. The former without hair on thin leaves which are usually longer than wide with shallowly crenate margins, the lateral petals usually with small beards; the latter leaves hairy, at least on lower thick leaf surfaces that are as long as wide, margins shallowly serrate, lateral petals with or without beards. Both are also found in wet places.
5). When the lateral petals are usually beardless, the leaves and leaf stalks sparsely to densely hairy, the lower leaf surface usually hairy, the leaf tips pointed, the bases heart-shaped, stolons present late in the season and are found in moist places, these are the Sweet White Violet, V. blanda of which there are two varieties to check on which differ in the amount of hair on leaves, on petals and in leaf details.

Subspecies: As noted above in 'Names', V. macloskeyi is no longer considered a subspecies of another violet, nor under the latest work, with any subspecies of it's own.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.


Above: Solitary flowerers rise on a leafless scape (an aerial stem rising from the root). Drawing from Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.

Below: The flower usually has small hairs on the two lateral petals. Leaves are smooth shallow crenate edges, palmate veins and a heart-shaped base.

flower and leaf

Below:- The nectar spur is short, the calyx lobes lanceolate. The leaves are smooth front and back. Young leaves are shown here. They enlarge after flowering.

calyx leaf upper side leaf underside

Below: A cluster of plants in bog habitat, with leaves of various sizes.

group of violets


Notes: Macloskey's Violet is considered indigenous to the Wildflower Garden as Eloise Butler catalogued it as V. pallens on May 25, 1907. She also planted the species in 1920, '24, '26 and '31. Martha Crone planted it in 1940, '46, and '47. Ken Avery in 1964. It is no longer extant, but is found nearby in the Quaking Bog.

Macloskey's Violet is widespread in North America, found in nearly all the Canadian Provinces, and most of the United States except Arizona, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Louisiana and Arkansas. Within Minnesota distribution covers 2/3rds of the state and concentrated in the counties NE of a line from Dakota County in the SE, northwest through Becker to Kittson County in the far NW.

In 1911 Eloise Butler wrote an article for the Minneapolis Tribune that covered the violet family. In her text she said “Another favorite is the small, white violet of the bogs, much prized on account of its exquisite fragrance.” Published in the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune May 21, 1911. In 1915 she wrote an article about fragrances in the Garden and said “Most agreeable and sweetest of all is the small white violet which carpets the swamp.” In both articles she must have been speaking of V. macloskeyi as she had never noted the Sweet White Violet, V. blanda in her log until planting it in 1916, whereas our species detailed here was listed as indigenous in 1907.

Elaine Goodale Eastman (1863 - 1953) wrote a poem about white violets. Read it here.


References and site links

References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.

graphicIdentification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.