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Native Wildflowers of the North Dakota Grasslands

JPG -- species photo

Nuttall's Violet (Viola nuttallii)


Another welcome addition to spring on the Dakota prairies is Nuttall's violet. The plant does not occur much farther eastward than Richland County in North Dakota, but ranges west to Oregon and south to Oklahoma and Utah at elevations up to 9,000 ft.

This is our only yellow prairie violet. Nuttall's violet is a perennial from somewhat fleshy rootstalks. Plants stand about four inches high, with the oblong or spear-shaped leaves slightly overtopping the flowers. The deep yellow flowers are about a half-inch long and streaked with purple lines. At maturity, capsules about 1/4 inch long contain the tiny seeds.

Violets are unusual in that two kinds of flowers are produced. In addition to the open, petal-bearing flowers, violets often bear closed flowers that have no petals. These are self-fertilized, produce most of the seeds, and sometimes are formed below ground.

Look for Nuttall's violet at middle to high elevations in grazed native prairie. Prairie left idle and not subjected to grazing or burning usually becomes heavily infested with Kentucky bluegrass; the old growth of this introduced plant may shade the soil so greatly that short plants such as Nuttall's violet cannot grow.

Viola is the classical Latin name for these plants and forms the basis for both the family name (Violaceae) and the generic name. In 1814, botanist Frederick Pursh dedicated this violet to the famous botanist Thomas Nuttall, who collected the first specimens. Nuttall visited the Mandan villages in what now is North Dakota while on expedition in 1810-1811.


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