Plant of the Week
Birdfoot Violet (Viola pedata L.)
By Larry Stritch
Birdfoot violet has been referred to as the “queen” of all the violets due to its beautiful colorations and the daintily divided leaves that resemble a bird’s foot. Two color forms are commonly encountered. In one, all five petals are lilac. In the other, the upper two petals are deep blue to violet. The form with five lilac petals is commoner to the east and north of its range. The upper petals flair backwards and the orange tipped stamens are quite conspicuous. The leaf blades are deeply cleft into 3 to 5 parts: these are the bird’s feet referred to in the common name. This native perennial wildflower is 7 to 15 cm high. This violet has no pubescence (hairs) or just a few.
Birdfoot violet may be found in bloom from mid- to late-spring. This species has been known to occasionally bloom in the fall as well. The seeds are ejected several centimeters from the plant. They have a sugary gel on the seed’s surface that attracts ants. The ants then carry off the seeds to aid in dispersal. The flowers are pollinated by a variety of pollinating insects including long-tongued bees, skippers, and other small butterflies. Bee visitors include anthophorine bees and bumblebees. This species is host to the eggs and caterpillars of the regal fritillary and other fritillary butterflies.
Habitats for Viola pedata include dry uplands in dry to rocky soils and well-drained black prairie soils. This species is restricted to undisturbed, high-quality habitats.