Field Pansy
Viola bicolor
Violet family (Violaceae)

Description: This wildflower is a winter or spring annual about 6" tall, sometimes branching near the base of the plant; it is more or less erect. The small basal leaves have orbicular blades with long slender petioles; these are followed by alternate leaves along the stems. The stems are light green to purplish green and hairless. The alternate leaves are obovate, oblanceolate, or linear-oblanceolate, becoming more narrow as they ascend the stems. They are up to 2" long, light to medium green, hairless, and smooth to slightly crenate along their margins. Leafy stipules up to 1" long occur along the stems near the bases of the leaves. These stipules have deep narrow lobes that are smooth or ciliate along their margins; they are light to medium green like the leaves. Occasionally, individual flowers are produced from axils of the upper leaves on long naked stalks. Each of these stalks is light green to dark purple and hairless, curving downward at the apex where the flower occurs. Each flower is about " across, consisting of 5 petals and 5 sepals. The petals are pale to medium blue-violet with dark purple lines, becoming white near the throat of the flower. However, the lowermost petal has a patch of yellow near its base. Also, the two lateral petals are bearded with white hairs near the throat of the flower. The sepals are smaller in size than the petals; they are light green to purplish green, lanceolate, and hairless. The blooming period occurs from mid-spring to early summer and lasts about 1 months. Fertilized flowers produce seed capsules. The small seeds are light brown and globoid; they are ejected mechanically from their ripened capsules. The root system consists of a slender branching taproot. Colonies of plants are occasionally formed.

Cultivation: The preference is full or partial sun, moist to mesic conditions, and a light friable soil containing some sand. However, this wildflower adapts to other kinds of soil as well.

Range & Habitat: The native Field Pansy is occasional in the southern half of Illinois and uncommon or absent in the northern half of the state (see Distribution Map). Habitats include limestone glades, moist sand prairies, fields, edges of sandy paths, and waste places. Sandy areas with a history of disturbance are preferred.

Faunal Associations: The nectar and pollen of the flowers attract mostly bees, although small butterflies and skippers may also visit the flowers. The caterpillars of various Fritillary butterflies (Boloria spp., Speyeria spp., etc.) and moths feed on the foliage of Viola spp. (Violets). The seeds are eaten in limited amounts by the Ruffed Grouse, Bobwhite, Wild Turkey, Mourning Dove, and some songbirds. Violets are not a preferred food source of mammalian herbivores, although rabbits and deer will browse on the foliage occasionally.

Photographic Location: Edge of a sand prairie in Kankakee County, Illinois.

Comments: In the past, there has been some controversy regarding whether or not the Field Pansy is native to North America as it shares many characteristics with annual Viola spp. from Eurasia. More recently, there is a growing consensus among botanists that the Field Pansy is sufficiently distinct to be considered a native species of North America. The Field Pansy is rather similar to the introduced Viola tricolor (Johnny Jump-Up). However, this latter species has larger tricolored flowers about –1" across and the terminal lobes of its stipules tend to have more teeth. Another introduced species, Viola arvensis (Wild Pansy), has yellow-cream flowers and its sepals are at least as long as its petals. Like the Field Pansy, these introduced species produce large stipules that are deeply lobed; this pansy-like characteristic distinguishes them from the Viola spp. that are called violets. A scientific synonym of the Field Pansy is Viola rafinesquii.