Transformational Gardening

Disclaimer: Foraging can be fun, rewarding and provide health benefits. As a novice forager, I will be sharing my foraging experiences. However, in order to be safe, always consult with local foraging experts and guidebooks before beginning foraging. Children should learn to forage safely by being guided by experienced adults. Never ingest anything unless you are certain of the identification and safety of the plant. Some plant species are inedible and some are poisonous.

Common Blue Violet (Wooly Blue Violet) (Viola sororia): Images

Date Location Notes Images
May 5-6, 2011 Southeastern, New Hampshire For me, differentiating between species of violet can be very easy in some cases and very difficult in other cases. If I had to rely on descriptions in a typical field guide, I would have no chance, especially in this case. What I think is far better are step-by-step “Identification Keys”. The one I found the most useful for Violets in my area is the New Brunswick Botany Club Violet Indentification Key (also found in PDF format here). A couple of other useful keys were the Northern Ontario Plant Database Violet Key (scroll down to see Key) and the American Violet Society Dichotomous Key (Eastern U.S.).

This case was particularly difficult because many botanists and guides no longer recognize Northern Woodland Violet (Viola sororia) as a separate species, but now categorize it as part of Viola sororia. Unfortunately, the written descriptions of Viola sororia sometimes conflict with that of Viola sororia.

The second row of pictures show that the plant has no above-ground stem -- leaf stems and flower stems come right from the level of the ground. This eliminated Viola adunca and Viola labradorica as possibilities. The second picture in the row shows there are hairs on the lateral (side) petals of the flower. This eliminated Viola selkirkii as a possibility. In addition, you can see that the little hairs are not dialated (swollen) at the apex (tip). This eliminated Viola cucullata and Viola x bissellii as possibilities.

The third row of pictures show that the sepals (the petals that lie under the flower and are usually green) are ciliate (have short hairs). There are other ways to differentiate between violets, but I think this is the most efficient process. This eliminated Viola novae-angliae and Viola nephrophylla as possibilities.

The fourth row of pictures shows that the typical leaf is as long or longer than it is wide. Therefore, I was able to eliminate Viola sagittata var. ovata as a possibility. According to this Key, the only option left was Viola sororia.

However, I used the USDA Plant Database search to perform an Advanced Search to see what Violets were found in New Hampshire and then proceeded to write down which were purple or blue violets and which of those were not in the New Brunswick Key I used. The ones not in the Key were: Viola affinis, Viola rostrata and Viola sororia. Viola affinis has a hairless or nearly hairless flower stem. As you can see from pictures below, this flower had a very hairy flower stem. Viola rostrata has a huge spur (spike) rising up high from the back of the flower (as can be seen from pictures online). This flower had no huge spike.

This left either the original Key selection, Viola sororia or Viola sororia. Several descriptions I ready for Viola sororia said that the spur flower petal (bottom middle petal) had no hairs. But as can be seen from the pictures on the fifth row, the bottom middle flower petal (spur petal) has hairs. Even though Viola sororia is often categorized under Viola sororia, it has a spur petal with hairs.

Viola sororia also fits other descriptions and images that I have seen including a very hairy stem, some hairs on the leaves, hairs on the leaf blades and growing in moist open woodlands. Since Viola sororia is categorized as Viola sororia by most botanists, I decided to do so as well.

I ate several leaves. They were a touch bitter and it is probably best to not eat a violet salad without any other ingredients, but they were not bad.
Date Location Notes Images
April 20, 2012 Southeastern, New Hampshire Using the new botanical guide by Arthur Haines, Flora Novae Angliae: A Manual for the Identification of Native and Naturalized Higher Vascular Plants of New England, you can see the flow of steps used to identify this species of violet:
  • Leaves and flower stems arising from rhizomes (underground stems) or stolons (horizontal stem creeping along the ground).
  • Flower petals mostly purple, violet or white.
  • Style (thin tube in the center of flower connecting the ovary) in a scoop-shaped or conical beak. The ovary is hairless.
  • The spur (sticking out of the back of the flower) is 3.2mm long or less and less than 2 times long as it is wide.
  • Flowers mostly purple. No stolons produced.
  • Leaf blades unlobed.
  • Leaf blades less than 1.75 times as long as wide.
  • Hairs of the lower flower petals longer than 1mm.
  • Sepals (outer lobes of the flower -- often green leaf-like structures at the base of the flower) are ciliate (with hairs on the edge).
  • The leaves are suffused on the back with a purple color. But if it were Southern Woodland Violet (Viola hirsutula) the veins on the front would be a strong purplish color. Therefore, it must be Viola sororia.
Date Location Notes Images
May 2, 2012 Southeastern, New Hampshire There was a little hairness on part of the front of the leaves and the key I used mentioned that hairs are not concentrated on the front of the leaves. Everything else matched perfectly.
Date Location Notes Images
May 5, 2013 Southeastern, New Hampshire I made a salad of Orpine, violet leaves and flowers and American Linden tree leaves. The Linden tree leaves were small, so I didn't harvest too much. I will harvest more when they get bigger.