Wisconsin State Flower - Wood Violet

Also known as the common blue violet, wood violet (Viola papilionacea or Viola sororia Willd.) is native to Wisconsin’s boreal and southern upland forests. Here, the diminutive plant grows beneath the canopies of oak and maple trees or the white spruce and balsam fir trees of the boreal forest. It lives among herbs, such as aster and wild sarsaparilla, and spring bloomers such as trout-lilies and bloodroot.


The wood violet is a native perennial plant with heart-shaped foliage and charming purple flowers. The plant is tiny, growing from 1 to 5 inches in height. In nature, it is common in Wisconsin’s low woods, while in the landscape, if not deliberately cultivated, one can find it sprouting in the lawn. Wood violet’s flowers, which bloom in April, grow on leafless stalks and have five purple petals. While wood violet grows across the state, it is more common in southern Wisconsin.


Like many other states, the choice of Wisconsin’s state flower was put to a vote among the state’s school children. Wisconsin, however, put a twist to the selection process by incorporating two steps: the first was an open election to determine the most popular flowers, and the second was an election among the finalists, scheduled for Arbor Day in 1909. The first step in the process produced four finalists: trailing arbutus, the white water lily, the wild rose and the violet. The latter won by a landslide, garnering twice the votes as the wild rose, which came in second. It wasn’t until 1949, however, that the specific violet species -- papilionacea -- was named the official state flower.


The best way to grow native plants is to mimic their natural habitat. Since the wood violet is a forest floor dweller, plant it in an area with dappled sunlight or light shade. The soil in the forest is loamy and full of organic matter, so give the wood violet organically amended soil and keep it moist to avoid yellow foliage. When thriving, the wood violet spreads from its underground rhizome.


Wisconsin’s Native American tribes used an infusion of the wood violet’s leaves as a nasal spray. Other medicinal uses included forming the crushed roots into a poultice for skin disorders and headaches, and foliage infusions were utilized as a cold remedy and to treat dysentery. Some tribes soaked their corn seed in an infusion of violet flowers to ward off insects. Today, the wood violet is eaten in salads, although it has a rather bland flavor. The flowers are high in vitamin C and, when mixed with violets with stronger flavors, make tasty jams and jellies.

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