Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Northern Woodland Violet - Viola septentrionalis   Greene
Members of Violaceae:
Members of Viola with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 6 » Order Violales » Family Violaceae
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DistributionScattered in the Mountains, mainly at higher elevations; ranges southwest to Graham County. Probably overlooked owing to unfamiliarity with this essentially Northern species and its similarity to the widespread and variable V. sororia. Specimens in SERNEC for the lower Piedmont and Coastal Plain must be in error.

This is a Northern species ranging over much of southern Canada, south mainly in the Appalachians to western NC and eastern TN.
AbundanceRare, though exact level of abundance is not well known. There are specimens for several additional Mountain counties, but these might be incorrect or at least have not been corroborated, owing to similarly to V. sororia. But, NCU has specimens from nine counties. The website editors suggest that it be placed on the Watch List, with a State Rank of S2?; oddly, the NCNHP has not yet ranked this species.
HabitatThis species has a wide range of cool to cold habitats in the higher elevations of the mountains. It grows in spruce-fir forests, margins of grass balds, inside hardwood forests such as beech forests, and in cove forests.
PhenologyBlooms in May and June, and fruits shortly after flowering.
IdentificationThis is a somewhat typical-looking blue-flowered violet species, one of many acaulescent species in the genus. The flowering stalks reach about 6 inches tall, with medium-sized violet-blue flowers, which has the lateral and lower petals bearded. It has its basal leaves quite pubescent on the underside, and they are often purplish beneath as well; the upper surface is usually glabrous or nearly so. They are heart-shaped like most other species, but this species has leaves usually wider than long. This is a difficult separation from the variable and numerous V. sororia, but Weakley (2018) separates that species by having its leaf blades "equally pubescent on both surfaces", as opposed to "blades much more pubescent on one surface [the lower surface] than the other". V. hirsutula has hairy leaves, but mainly above and not below, and its leaves are light green between the veins with contrasting dark veins. As this is a tricky species to identify, it is suspected that many specimens were collected of mystery violets or of plants that collectors might have simply believed were V. sororia.
Taxonomic CommentsThis is a long-standing species, but some references perhaps do not recognize it or include it within V. sororia. Though some specimens were collected before RAB (1968) was published, the authors probably identified them at that time as V. palmata var. sororia.

General note on Viola: In 2009-10 B.A. Sorrie (website map editor) went through the whole collection at NCU, annotating all specimens against those verified by experts in the genus. The range maps in RAB (1968) have been changed accordingly. More recently, H. Ballard and students are in the process of revising all Southeastern Viola, and they will recognize additional species; this work has now been published (see above). We will follow updated editions of Weakley in recognizing them.
Other Common Name(s)Northern Blue Violet
State Rank[S2?]
Global RankG5
State Status[W7]
US Status
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