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Environmental Studies

Viola pedata  Family Name: Violaceae  


Photo by Julia Giza

The bird’s foot violet is a bit fussier than the rest of the violets, but is well worth the trouble! The soil needed for Viola pedata must be well-drained, otherwise the plant could rot. Viola pedata needs to be kept free of weeds and other aggressive plants so as not to be crowded out. It’s a short-lived perennial, but it will self-seed readily.

Why do we call this charming little plant the “birdsfoot violet”? Well, just take a look at the dark green, dissected foliage and you will see that each leaf resembles a birds foot.

Physical characteristics

Height: 0.25 to 0.5 feet               

Spread: 0.25 to 0.5 feet               

Bloom Time: March to May               

Bloom Color: Blue, Purple, Lavender               

Bloom Description: Lilac/purple               

Sun: Full sun               

Water: Dry to medium   
Maintenance: Medium               
Flowers: Showy Flowers               
Wildlife: Attracts Butterflies               
Tolerates: Dry Soil, Shallow, Rocky Soil, Drought, Deer               
Uses: Will Naturalize
Stems: Acaulescent but with an erect caudex and fibrous roots.

Inflorescence: Single pediculate flowers from caudex. Peduncles to +10cm long, glabrous, often purplish, with pair of linear bracts at or below the middle. Bracts to 1.3cm long, -1mm broad.

Leaf: Basal. Outer leaves on shorter petioles (to 2.5cm long). Inner leaves with petioles to +5cm long. Petioles glabrous, with single adaxial groove. Stipules of lower leaves to +1cm long, attenuate, coarsely ciliate to fimbriate-margined. Stipules of inner leaves to +2cm long. Blade of outer leaves smaller, +/-2cm broad, +/-1.5cm long, typically palmately 3-lobed. Lobes oblanceolate to narrowly obovate. Inner leaf blades to +/-4cm broad, +/-2.5cm long, with the lobes again divided. Ultimate divisions linear to narrowly oblanceolate. All leaf blades glabrous, with strigillose margins.

Flower | Seeds: Corolla typically deep purple (rarely white or a mix of purple and white), +3.5cm long and broad. Lowest petal spurred, fading to white at base with purple venation. Lateral petals NOT bearded. All petals glabrous. Stamens 5, connivent to connate around ovary. The lowest 2 stamens with curved appendages at the base. Appendages to 2.5mm long. Anther connective larger than in most other species of the genus. Anthers slightly excreted. Ovary glabrous, 2.1mm long, sub-cylindric, unilocular. Placentation parietal. Style glabrous, 2mm long, expanded and clavate. Sepals 5, attenuate, glabrous but with distinctly ciliate margins, to 1.1cm long, 2.5mm broad at base, auriculate. Auricles 1mm long, rounded. Uppermost sepal reflexed. Fruit glabrous, loosely 3-sided, -1cm long, with persistent style.

Life Cycle: Annual cycle

Photo by Julia Giza

Ecological characteristics

Birdfoot violet occurs occasionally in northern Illinois and in counties along the Mississippi River, but is uncommon or absent elsewhere (see Distribution Map). Habitats include upland areas of black soil prairies, sand prairies, hill prairies, sandstone glades, cherty slopes, thinly wooded bluffs, openings in rocky or sandy forests, sandy black oak savannas, and sand dunes near Lake Michigan. This plant is largely restricted to high quality habitats. Fire is a beneficial management tool in areas with trees and shrubs.

More distribution info:

  • ME west to MN, south to northern FL and eastern TX.

Culture: Best grown in sandy or gravelly, dry to medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun. Tolerates light shade. Good soil drainage is the key to growing this plant well. Does not spread by runners.  The soil should be sandy or rocky to reduce competition from other
plants; a somewhat acid pH is preferred. The greatest danger is crown rot from poorly drained, heavy soil.  May self-seed in optimum growing conditions. Considered more difficult to grow than most other violets.

 Importance to the ecosystem

The blooming period is mid-to late spring, and this plant may bloom during the fall. There may be a mild floral scent in some local ecotypes. Unlike other violets, Birdfoot Violet does not produce cleistogamous flowers. The coppery seeds can be ejected several inches from the mother plant. There is a sugary gel on the seeds that attract ants; these ants often carry these seeds to their nests. The root system consists of a tuberous caudex with long coarse roots. Sometimes rhizomes are produced, forming vegetative offsets.

The birdfoot violet is one of many indicator plant species that recover oak savannas and open oak woodlands in southern Wisconsin. Species are marginal indicators of former savannas and/or woodlands. They tend to have broad habitat amplitudes that allow them to grow in several upland plant communities.

Relationship with other species

Non-human: The flowers attract long-tongued bees, small butterflies, and skippers. Bee visitors during the spring include bumblebees and anthophorine bees. Compared to other violets, the flowers of this species attracts more butterflies and skippers, which are often held horizontal to the ground (face up) and easier for such insects to land on. The caterpillars of various Fritillary butterflies feed on the foliage and flowers; the caterpillars of Speyeria idalia (regal fritillary) may prefer this violet species over others as a food source. As noted above, ants are attracted to the sugary gel on the seeds, and help to distribute them.

Humans: Birdfoot violets, and other violets, are considered by most people to be beautiful. Some people try to grow then in their gardens. They are also appreciated since they attract wildlife, such as butterflies and bees.

Garden Uses: Mass or groups in rock gardens. Ground cover for slopes or open woodland areas. Sunny areas of native plant or wildflower gardens. Along paths.











SPECIES Viola pedata



Diseases : Rhizactonia Root and Stem Rot

Rhizoctonia is a fungus that is found in most soils and enters the plant through the roots or the stem at soil level.

Prevention and Control: First of all, do not overwater and if you suspect Rhizoctonia may be your problem, decrease watering. If a plant is too far gone (all the leaves from the bottom up are wilted), remove it. If your plant is in a container, discard the soil too. Wash the pot with a 1 part bleach to 9 parts water solution. Fungicides can be used, according to label directions. Consult a professional for a legal recommendation of what fungicide to use.

Pest : Aphids
Aphids are small, soft-bodied, slow-moving insects that suck fluids from plants. Aphids come in many colors, ranging from green to brown to black, and they may have wings. They attack a wide range of plant species causing stunting, deformed leaves and buds. They can transmit harmful plant viruses with their piercing/sucking mouthparts. Aphids, generally, are merely a nuisance, since it takes many of them to cause serious plant damage. However aphids do produce a sweet substance called honeydew (coveted by ants) which can lead to an unattractive black surface growth called sooty mold.

Aphids can increase quickly in numbers and each female can produce up to 250 live nymphs in the course of a month without mating. Aphids often appear when the environment changes – spring & fall. They’re often massed at the tips of branches feeding on succulent tissue. Aphids are attracted to the color yellow and will often hitchhike on yellow clothing.

Prevention and Control: Keep weeds to an absolute minimum, especially around desirable plants. On edibles, wash off infected area of plant. Lady bugs and lacewings will feed on aphids in the garden. There are various products —organic and inorganic— that can be used to control aphids. Seek the recommendation of a professional and follow all label procedures to a tee.

Diseases : Anthracnose
Anthracnose is the result of a plant infection, caused by a fungus, and may cause severe defoliation, especially in trees, but rarely results in death. Sunken patches on stems, fruit, leaves, or twigs, appear grayish brown, may appear watery, and have pinkish-tan spore masses that appear slime-like. On vegetables, spots may enlarge as fruit matures.

Prevention and Control: Try not to over water. If your climate is naturally rainy, grow resistant varieties. In the vegetable garden, stake and trellis plants to provide good air circulation so that plants may dry. Increase sunlight to plants by trimming limbs. Prune, remove, or destroy infected plants and remove all leaf debris. Select a fungicide that is labeled for anthracnose and the plant you are treating. Follow the label strictly

Fungi : Powdery Mildew

Powdery Mildew is usually found on plants that do not have enough air circulation or adequate light. Problems are worse where nights are cool and days are warm and humid. The powdery white or gray fungus is usually found on the upper surface of leaves or fruit. Leaves will often turn yellow or brown, curl up, and drop off. New foliage emerges crinkled and distorted. Fruit will be dwarfed and often drops early.

Prevention and Control: Plant resistant varieties and space plants properly so they receive adequate light and air circulation. Always water from below, keeping water off the foliage. This is paramount for roses. Go easy on the nitrogen fertilizer. Apply fungicides according to label directions before problem becomes severe and follow directions exactly, not missing any required treatments. Sanitation is a must —clean up and remove all leaves, flowers, or debris in the fall and destroy.

Fungi : Leaf Spots
Leaf spots are caused by fungi or bacteria. Brown or black spots and patches may be either ragged or circular, with a water soaked or yellow-edged appearance. Insects, rain, dirty garden tools, or even people can help its spread.

Prevention and Control: Remove infected leaves when the plant is dry. Leaves that collect around the base of the plant should be raked up and disposed of. Avoid overhead irrigation if possible; water should be directed at soil level. For fungal leaf spots, use a recommended fungicide according to label directions.



Other interesting facts

  • These plants spread by rhizomes, underground stems that grow sideways. Rhizomes can send up new stems to make new plants. Because of the way rhizomes spread, if you see one violet, you will usually see many. The rhizomes make “colonies” of many plants.

  • The sepals are green, while the petals are pale blue-violet to dark purple-violet. Usually the petals are the same color, although sometimes the upper two petals are dark purple-violet, while the lower three petals are pale blue-violet. Toward the throat of the flower, the lower petal is white with fine violet lines that function as nectar guides. There are no white hairs near the throat. The stamens are a conspicuous golden yellow. 



How-to : Fertilization for Annuals and Perennials
Annuals and perennials may be fertilized using: 1.water-soluble, quick release fertilizers; 2. temperature controlled slow-release fertilizers; or 3. organic fertilizers such as fish emulsion. Water soluble fertilizers are generally used every two weeks during the growing season or per label instructions. Controlled, slow-release fertilizers are worked into the soil usually only once during the growing season or per label directions. For organic fertilizers such as fish emulsion, follow label directions as they may vary per product.


Conditions : Moist
Moist is defined as soil that receives regular watering to a depth of 18 inch deep, does not dry out, but does not have a drainage problem either.
Conditions : Normal Watering for Outdoor Plants
Normal watering means that soil should be kept evenly moist and watered regularly, as conditions require. Most plants like 1 inch of water a week during the growing season, but take care not to over water. The first two years after a plant is installed, regular watering is important for establishment. The first year is critical. It is better to water once a week and water deeply, than to water frequently for a few minutes.


How-to : Preparing Garden Beds
Use a soil testing kit to determine the acidity or alkalinity of the soil before beginning any garden bed preparation. This will help you determine which plants are best suited for your site. Check soil drainage and correct drainage where standing water remains. Clear weeds and debris from planting areas and continue to remove weeds as soon as they come up.

A week to 10 days before planting, add 2 to 4 inches of aged manure or compost and work into the planting site to improve fertility and increase water retention and drainage. If soil composition is weak, a layer of topsoil should be considered as well. No matter if your soil is sand or clay, it can be improved by adding the same thing: organic matter. The more, the better; work deep into the soil. Prepare beds to an 18 inch deep for perennials. This will seem like a tremendous amount of work now, but will greatly pay off later. Besides, this is not something that is easily done later, once plants have been established.












Page drafted by Julia Giza and Ben Wheeler