Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Most rural North Dakotans are probably familiar with the beautiful little prairie violet. The plant occurs nearly statewide, but seems to be rare or absent in the northwesternmost counties. The species' overall range is from Ohio to Saskatchewan south to Oklahoma and Arizona.
Prairie violet is perennial from a short underground stem above stringy roots. Plants are usually about five or six inches tall. The long-stalked leaves are divided into narrow segments. Early in the season each plant bears several blue to dark purple flowers up to an inch wide. These flowers often do not produce seed. Later, seed may be produced from small petalless flowers that are self-pollinating and form underground. The seed capsules at maturity may eject the seeds with some force.
The plant seems to thrive under moderate or heavy grazing in our area, but in dryer regions, more plants may be found where grazing is light. Worldwide, the violets are used for foods, perfumes, medicines, and ornamentals, but I could find no specific references to prairie violet in this regard.
Viola is the classical Latin name for these plants, and is the basis for the family name Violaceae. The specific epithet pedatifida means "pedately-cleft" in botanical Latin, in reference to the leaves, which look like a bird's foot with the outer toes again parted. Prairie violet was described for science in 1831 by the Scottish botanist George Don (1798-1856).