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Viola labradorica 'purpurea' = V. riviniana? (what's the story)

lrobins
August 1, 2002

Just following up on a comment someone made in a previous thread. To provide context for my question, I've been doing research on low-growing, eastern U.S. native wildflowers suitable for a low "front border" to a native perennial garden (with medium to tall plants). Of course, violets are generally low-growing, and there are many North American species. In looking through the catalogs of native plant nurseries near my area, I've seen several reference to Viola labradorica, or V. labradorica purpurea. This puzzled me a bit because reference books say that V. labradorica is native to Labrador, Greenland, and Nova Scotia. Most plants from that far "up north" wouldn't be happy in our hot summers, and wouldn't be carried by local nurseries. The comment in the other thread suggests the answer to this mystery: the purported V. labradorica is really V. riviniana, a more adaptable European not North American species. Is this now generally accepted (at least by knowledgeable botanists)? If so, why does the apparent mis-identification persist, in other words why don't the nurseries start referring to the plant as V. riviniana purpurea?

Comments (25)

  • Mike Hardman

    Yes - confusion persists.
    Here's a stab at explaining it.

    Most plants sold as Viola labradorica or Viola labradorica purpurea (various concoctions of spelling and puncuation) are actually a purple leaved form of Viola riviniana. Current opinion is that this should be called Viola riviniana Purpurea Group (first two words in italics, second two words in normal Roman type and without any quotes). The 'purpurea' suffix to the Viola labradorica name was used to indicate a form with more-purple leaves, but the plant encompasses a range of leaf-purplenesses, so such a qualification may not be very useful. Also, the leaves vary in purpleness depending on the time of year and temperatures and light levels.
    This mis-naming has been around for ages, and because of that, it is difficult to displace in many growers minds - in just the same way that Pelargoniums are commonly called geraniums. A few nurserymen do list the plant as Viola riviniana Purpurea Group, but most still use some spelling variant of Viola labradorica/purpurea, and may continue to do so if they see it as beneficial for their sales. It can be very difficult to turn the tide on these things. The recent re-naming of Aubretia to Aubrieta will probably take many years swimming against the tide before it gains a firm footing, eg.

    Viola labradorica is a valid species, as you describe, but I have yet to see it in cultivation. (It would be interesting to know whether any nurseries in Nova Scotia actually stock it.)

    Footnote: Viola riviniana Purpurea Group seems to be gaining adoption, but I am not 100% sure it is the best name, since there is also a Viola purpurea, and the ICNCP frowns upon a cultivar group having the same name as a species in the same denomination group. The issue then is the extent of the denomintion group - Viola or Viola riviniana. Opinions vary.

    Mike

  • takeda

    I want to see true Viola labradorica in the web.Show me URL of the sites involving photos of true Viola labradorica.

  • Vicki_J

    There is a photograph of v. labradorica in the book The Genus Viola of Maine by Arthur Haines.Published in 2001 the author bases much of his work on Ballard's studies so I feel confidant in Mr. Haines'taxonomy.
    I purchased my copy from The bookshop of the New England Wildflower Society. You can also get it at http://www.vfthomas.com/books.htm.

    hope this helps
    Vicki

  • Vicki_J

    Takeda,
    Given thatyou are in Japan and it may not be practical for you to mail order the book,try contacting the author via his email address arthurhaines@gwi.net or take a look at his web site http://arthur_haines.tripod.com/. The photographs of violets are his and perhaps he can email this particular one to you.

  • rufino

    There is a picture of the true Viola labradorica on the USDA Plants Database website.

    Here is a link that might be useful: Viola labradorica

  • helenaviolet

    Thankyou all for the very interesting comments here. I have been growing the plant referred to as 'Viola labradorica' for many years. It is often available for sale in plant nurseries here in Australia. I once had a pink flowering form which I lost and haven't yet replaced. The leaves were not as deeply coloured as the standard blue-flowered form, which is presently in flower in my garden. A delightful pest really, self seeds and pops up all over the place! Mike, I trust in your explanation about it being 'Viola riviniana Purpurea Group'. I have always regarded Viola riviniana as being a little 'woodland violet' (mistakenly thought it was V. sylvestris for many years) - well now there is one with green leaves and one with purple leaves which is an easy way to describe it. Some of my gardening friends would look at me very strangely if I tried to tell them the climbing geraniums over the fence are pelargoniums.:)

  • chloeasha

    I ordered v. labradorica from Goodwin Creek just a few weeks ago and got the purple leaved variety. This has been an interesting read!

  • ontnative

    Here in Canada, many nurseries are still selling viola riviniana as V. labradorica purpurea, and listing it as a North American native. For those of us who like to grow "natives", it is easy to get fooled.

  • helenaviolet

    A reference here which may be of interest: Please try to get hold of a book "Violets of the United States" by Doretta Klaber 1976; via the public library or second hand book trade. It is exceptionally well researched and illustrated.

    About Viola labradorica, Doretta Klaber illustrates and describes a plant with "very dark purple rosette of its early leaves." Further she writes:

    "It is found in only a few northern locations in this country, a bog near the shores of Lake Superior, Cook County in Minnesota, the White Mountains in New Hampshire, and Alaska."

    "As it is found in both bogs and woodland, rich, moist, well-drained soil is indicated with half shade unless especially wet."

  • eduedu

    Hello: I find this theme accidentally. And go to the garden to see my Viola labradorica plants. As I believe, itôs a stemmed violet. And I suppose Viola riviniana Purpurea Group is stemmless. So that will be an easy way to identify them.
    Lovely forum you maintain. Thanks for teaching in this theme.
    Best regards, eduardo

  • evansae70

    I live in Nova Scotia and lucky to be close to the Harriet Irving Botanical Centre at Acadia University. They had a native plant sale yesterday (volunteers propagate seedlings over the winter from seeds gathered in the gardens there). I bought two little plants identified as Labrador violet. I'm interested to see how they'll turn out!

  • Mike Hardman

    eduedu,

    No - Viola riviniana, in all its forms, is stemmed, so that does not help differentiate them.


    evansae70,

    Did the vendor say where they originated?

    It would be very nice to know of some real V. labradorica raised from wild seed. Do, indeed, let us know how they turn out!

  • eduedu

    Dear Mike: you have all the reason about this: I just find in http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1469-8137.1941.tb07043.x/pdf a good description of Viola riviniana, and, as you say, it´s a stemmed viola.
    Again searching a differentiation key...sighh
    Thanks and best regards, eduardo


  • Mike Hardman

    eduedu,

    Very good work was done on the North American Viola by Ezra Brainerd and his colleagues at the Agricultural Experiment Station at Burlington in Vermont. His daugher, Viola Brainerd Baird, gathered together much of his work into a single volume and added colour illustrations, published as a limited edition of 1,000 in 1942: 'WIld Violets of North America', University of California Press. (At one stage I had five of them, of which I kept the best, no.747: one of my most treasured books!)

    Viola labradorica is described on pp.189-191. It points out some differences to other North American stemmed blue violets, but it does not provide comparison with V. riviniana. In that respect, some points perhaps worthy of note:

    • it is small - 0.5-2.5inches tall

    • the rootstock branches freely (V. riviniana too, but the latter can also produce adventitious shoots from the roots)

    • the stipules are 'nearly the same width throughout' but the illustration on p.189 contradicts that by showing them being distinctly wedge-shaped

    • it is found 'in dried bogs'

    • flowers in June and July (but note its natural altitude range, below)

    • 'It occurs in Greenland and Labrador then southward to the high mountains of Maine, New Hampshire and New York at an elevation of 2000 to 3500 feet'

    • perhaps of most value in differentiating Vv. riviniana and labradorica is the flower colour: V. riviniana is a fairly pale slaty blue, whereas V. labradorica is a fairly deep violet.


  • evansae70

    Thanks, very helpful. I look forward to the deep violet of the flowers (fairly)


  • eduedu

    Thanks very much: In Buenos Aires we are in autumn. My Violas are preparing to blossom. But the photos of past year show pale lilac flowers...a beatiful riviniana, I suppose...


  • Mike Hardman

    eduedu,

    Ah - that seems like a correct deduction, unfortunately.


    evansae70 and eduedu,

    If you get a chance to take some photos, of flowers, leaves, etc, please post them here. I am sure I am not the only person who would be interested in seeing them.


    evansae70,

    Have you asked at the Harriet Irving Botanical Centre at Acadia University?

  • eduedu

    I´m sending some photos of my (pseudo) Viola labradorica. Best regards. And no, have´nt asked to that Botanical Center. Best regards


  • evansae70

    Will try to take a picture once they are flowering. I need to harden them off before planting them out - it's a late spring here after a hard winter. If I have a chance I'll ask Harriet Irving Bot. Centre where they got their original plants - if anyone can remember!

  • parker25mv

    Sometimes certain plant varieties can have alternate sets of latin names, and it can be very unclear whether they are actually another distinct species.

    For example, the Western Maidenhair fern often goes under the name Adiantum pedatum, even though that encompasses both the Western and Eastern variety, but sometimes goes under its own distinct name Adiantum aleuticum. This caused much confusion when I was looking to order this fern.

    Both the Western and Eastern varieties are very similar, but there are some subtle differences, and I was really looking for a variety native to the West coast. They are not really separate species either, just different geographically isolated cultivars.

  • aftermidnight Zone7b B.C. Canada

    Can anyone tell me which one I have bought as labridorica but have a sneaky suspicion it's really V. riviniana.

    Annette

  • Mike Hardman

    Annette,

    That is V. riviniana Purpurea Group. Apart from the purplish leaves, everything is typical V. riviniana. It is still a lovely plant.

    Mike

  • aftermidnight Zone7b B.C. Canada

    Thanks for the ID Mike another puzzle solved. At certain times of the year (I think spring) the leaves are much darker. I agree it is a very pretty little plant, it self seeds around a bit but just pull it where it isn't wanted. Although a plant collector at heart I have a cottage style garden, even wild violets are allowed to pop up and brighten up the nooks and crannies in my garden. The little native yellow has disappeared tho and I can't seem to get it going again :(.

    Annette

  • Mike Hardman

    Colder weather and sunshine enhances the purplish colour, especially in new leaves - so in spring, if the plants are growing under deciduous trees, that's why.

    I applaud your letting letting wild violets seed about, and do well where things are just right for them. Shame about the yellow (possibly Viola glabella). It grew well for me in Surrey for a while, but then somehow I, too, lost it. You have several native species that should 'do' for you in BC; worth experimenting; maybe some will find your garden to their taste and persist. V. canadensis comes to mind (white and yellow flowers).

  • aftermidnight Zone7b B.C. Canada

    Mike when we first moved here in 1965 the front lawn had lots of the native yellow violets throughout but they've disappeared, now a little white violet has appeared, where the seed blew in from I don't know, possibly V. canadensis, I'll have to have a closer look in the spring.

    My neighbor up the street has a wild light bright pink violet in her lawn. I brought some home but they don't stay that light bright pink here, some are now purple, some halfway in between purple and pink, maybe the PH in my soil has something to do with it. Whatever they are I love them, they have a nice fragrance too.

    I do have a fairly large patch of 'White Czar' under the Robinia tree. My son has lots of the yellow native growing throughout his lawn in Victoria, I tried once to establish his here but they just wouldn't take, Maybe I should try again :)

    Annette

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