Violets & Pansies

Garden Pansy Wild Pansy Sweet Violet Heath Dog Violet

What are they?

Violets and pansies are a closely-related group of low-growing, annual or perennial species. Their cheery appearance in spring is much enjoyed by many and the group includes popular garden bedding plants, as well as wild natives.

Where are they found?

Native violets are mostly plants of old woodland or unimproved grassland (with some rare species of wetlands), while pansies are largely plants of open, disturbed ground.

Identification

Violets are all fairly similar and identification can be difficult without care. Flowers are all rather similar, but the colour of the spur at the back of the flower is useful. For some species, the hairiness of the leaves is useful. Pansies are extremely variable in colour and identification should involve the size of the flowers.



Sweet Violet      Viola odorata

Common; native in woodland and also much introduced in gardens, parks and churchyards. Flowers late February to May, usually the first violet in flower in spring. Plants have stolons and form extensive mats; flowers may be dark or light violet, wine red or white, with a dark spur. Leaves hairy below and on petioles, with hairs flat to the surface.

Sweet Violet Sweet Violet Sweet Violet Sweet Violet
Habit
Flower
Flower spur
Leaf hairs


Hairy Violet      Viola hirta

A scarce and declining species, usually found in short turf in chalky places. Flowers March to May, pale bluish-violet. Plants without stolons, forming small clumps of discreet plants. Leaves hairy below and on petioles, with hairs spreading or erect, not flat.

Hairy Violet Hairy Violet Hairy Violet Hairy Violet
Habit
Flower
Flower spur and
blunt sepals
Leaf hairs


Early Dog Violet      Viola reichenbachiana

Common in woods and shady places on boulder clay but mostly absent on lighter, sandy soils. Flowers March to May; flower spur straight, darker than petals; petals relatively narrow, the upper often erect. Leaves hairless.

Early Dog Violet Early Dog Violet Early Dog Violet Early Dog Violet
Flower
Flower
Flower spur and
sepals
Leaf hairless


Common Dog Violet      Viola riviniana

Common in woods and shady places as well as in more open, grassy places. Flowers March to May; flower spur curved, paler than petals; petals relatively broad. Leaves hairless.

Common Dog Violet Common Dog Violet Common Dog Violet Common Dog Violet
Habit
Flower
Flower
Flower spur and
sepals


Heath Dog Violet      Viola canina

Scarce but sometimes very locally common in grassy places on sandy soil, including coastal dunes. Flowers April to June peaking a little later than other dog violets; flower spur pale, often slightly yellowish; petals with a subtly light greyish blue tone. Leaves hairless.

Heath Dog Violet Heath Dog Violet Heath Dog Violet Heath Dog Violet
Habit
Flower
Flower spur and
sepals
Leaf


American Dog Violet      Viola labradorica

Occasional as a garden plant and rarely found as a garden throw-out or escape from cultivation. Flowers May to June; flower spur pale. The popular garden form has dark, blackish-purplish leaves.

American Dog Violet American Dog Violet American Dog Violet American Dog Violet
Habit
Flower
Flower spur and
sepals
Leaf


Horned Violet      Viola cornuta

Rare; once recorded as a garden escape from Norfolk. Flowers May to June, rich, deep violet-purple with long, pointed spur at the back.

Horned Violet Horned Violet
Flower


Marsh Violet      Viola palustris

A native but rare species with the main regional population being in acid, marshy places in the Norfolk Broads. Flowers April to June, paler than those of other species with darker veins. Leaves broad, more or less kidney-shaped and hairless.

Marsh Violet Marsh Violet Marsh Violet Marsh Violet
Habit
Flower
Flower
Leaf


Garden Pansy      Viola x wittrockiana

Popular garden plants with cheery flowers that occasionally self-seed or otherwise find their way onto rough or untended ground in urban areas. Flowers almost any month of the year; petals seemingly come in almost any colour, with often dark marks that more or less form a 'face'. Many modern varieties have large flowers, up to 10cm across but others are much smaller and very similar to the now rare, native Wild Pansy.

Garden Pansy Garden Pansy Garden Pansy Garden Pansy
Habit
Flowers
Flower
Flower


Wild Pansy      Viola tricolor ssp. tricolor

(Heartsease). A once common annual of arable and disturbed land but now rather scarce and continuing to decline, perhaps in part due to changes in land-use, but seemingly also due to hybridization with European Field Pansy, a species that seems to have coped better with modern agricultural practice. Flowers throughout the summer; petals variously blue, white, purple and yellow. Differs from European Field Pansy in having larger flowers, with sepals shorter than the petals. Flowers, measured vertically across the face are usually 10mm or more.

Wild Pansy Wild Pansy Wild Pansy Wild Pansy
Habit
Flower
Flower spur and
sepals
Leaf


Breckland Pansy      Viola tricolor ssp. curtisii

(Sand Pansy). Rare in sandy soils of Breckland and the Suffolk coastal sandlings. Flowers mostly May to June; petals variously blue, white, purple and yellow. A subspecies of Wild Pansy that differs mainly in being a tufted perennial rather than an annual, and in having broader end lobes to the stipules.

Breckland Pansy Breckland Pansy Breckland Pansy Breckland Pansy
Habit
Flower
Flower
Flower


European Field Pansy      Viola arvensis

Common and widespread in disturbed ground. Flowers mostly May to October; petals small, mostly white but occasionally with bluish suffusions. Petals shorter than the long, pointed sepals. Flowers, measured vertically across the face are usually 8mm or less. It seems to me to be unclear whether plants with bluish tones on the petals can be this species, or if they are all hybrids with some Wild Pansy in their ancestry.

European Field Pansy European Field Pansy European Field Pansy European Field Pansy
Flower
Flower spur and
sepals
Leaf, showing large,
spreading stipules at base
Open seed pod


Hybrid Field Pansy      Viola x contempta

Common and widespread in disturbed ground. Flowers mostly May to October; petals small, mostly white with bluish suffusions. Petals shorter than the long, pointed sepals. It seems to me to be unclear whether plants with bluish tones on the petals can be this species, or if they are all hybrids with some Wild Pansy in their ancestry. Highly variable, but generally intermediate between both parents.

Hybrid Field Pansy Hybrid Field Pansy Hybrid Field Pansy
Habit
Flower
Flower spur and
sepals