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
Marsh Blue Violet


Scientific Name
Viola cucullata Aiton


Plant Family
Violet (Violaceae)

Garden Location
Historical - not extant


Prime Season
Late Spring - Early Summer



Marsh Blue Violet is a small native violet of moist places, stemless, with a rosette of leaves beneath the flowering scape.

Leaves rise from a horizontal rhizome. All are basal with palmate veins, and are held erect to ascending. The base is heart shaped to kidney shaped, taping up to an acute tip. Margins are without lobes but usually with fine crenations looking like broad teeth. The surfaces are both usually smooth without hair. Like many violets, the leaves expand in size after flowering.

The inflorescence is a single bare flowering scape rising from the root, with a single flower held above the leaves.

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.

The chasmogamous flowers vary considerably in color ranging from light to a dark blue-violet, to violet. Violets have five petals. Here the petals have darker nectar guide veins near their bases while the lower petal has a white base. This petal extends rearward forming a spur containing the nectary. The two laterals are bearded and longer than the base petal. The hairs of the beard had swollen tips, but these are difficult to see without a hand lens. The ovary, stamens and style are recessed at the back of 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 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. There are 5 sepals, much shorted than the petals; these usually have a short (3 - 6 mm) auricle (basal lobe). In the northern part of the plants range the auricles are shorter and may not be seen on some plants. Flowers may or may not produce a seed capsule.

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 ascending stems. These form an erect seed capsule. In most violets the cleistogamous flowers produce the abundance of seed.

Seed: Seeds are light brownish to bronze and small, 1 - 2 mm long. Most violet seeds require 60 days of cold stratification plus light for germination. They must be surface sown.


Habitat: Marsh Blue Violet grows from a thick fleshy, horizontal rhizome and does not produce stolons. It is found in open or wooded areas that are moist.

Names: One of the older names for this violet is V. obliqua. The genus Viola is the very old Latin word for sweet scented flowers. The species name, cucullata means 'hoodlike' referring to having sides curved inward resembling a hood. At one time this species was referred to as the 'hooded violet' perhaps a reference to the long side petals obscuring the throat. The author name for the plant classification - ‘Aiton’ is for William Aiton (1731-1793), Scottish botanist, who succeeded Philip Miller as superintendent of the Chelsea Physic Garden and then became director of Kew Gardens, where he published Hortus Kewensis, the Garden’s catalogue of plants.

Similar plant or comparisons:. Several stemless blue violets resemble the Marsh Blue Violet. V. selkirkii Selkirk's Violet, is blue but beardless. No other blue violet in this geographic range has the swollen beard hairs. If the hairs are thin and straight and there are no hairs on the sepal margins you probably have V. nephrophylla, the Northern Bog Violet which also has smooth leaves. If there are hairs on the sepal margins and the leaves are hairy and mostly rounded you probably have V. sororia, the Common or Woolly Blue Violet. If the leaves are 1.5 to 3x longer than wide check for V. sagittata.

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

front face Side view

Above: Front and side view of the flower

Below: Two views of the leaf.

leaf leaf

Below: 1st photo - the underside of the leaf - note the palmate vein pattern. 2nd photo - The throat of the flower with the swollen hairs on the side petal and the beardless style.

leaf undersidecorolla throat

Below: The erect seed pod of the cleistogamous flower.

Seed pod


Notes: Marsh Blue Violet is not indigenous to the Wildflower Garden but was introduced by Eloise Butler in 1922 with plants she gathered in Glenwood Park which surrounded the Garden. She added more in 1923 and 1931. It was still in the Garden at the time of Martha Crone's 1951 census.

In Minnesota it is found in many counties in the NE quadrant of the state and then a few counties south along the eastern boarder including Hennepin, Scott, Washington and Ramsey in the metro area. In North America Its range is the eastern half of the continent, north as far as Hudson Bay and South excluding the gulf coast.

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.