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Yellow Wood Violet

Viola biflora

  • Name also: Arctic Wood Violet, Arctic Yellow Violet, Twoflower Violet, Twinflower Violet (British Columbia)
  • Family: Violet Family – Violaceae
  • Growing form: Perennial herb.
  • Height: 5–12 cm (2–4.8 in.). Stem leafy, branchless.
  • Flower: Corolla zygomorphic, yellow, approx. 1 cm (0.4 in.) wide; petals 5, lowest with short, blunt spur. Sepals 5. Stamens 5. Gynoecium fused, single-styled. Flowers solitary in axils, nodding, fragrant.
  • Leaves: In basal rosette, opposite on stem, stalked, stipulate. Blade kidney-shaped–widely cordate, sparsely haired, light green. Stipules ovate–lanceolate, entire, usually hairy.
  • Fruit: 3-valved capsule.
  • Habitat: Stream banks, shore banks, broad-leaved forests, quagmires, snow-bed sites, tundra moorland.
  • Flowering time: June–July.

Most wild violets in Finland are blue-flowered and pretty much alike, but yellow wood violet is something else: it is instantly recognizable by its yellow corolla and northern habitat. Yellow wood violet commonly adorns wetlands around Inari in the northern half of Lapland and north-west Enontekiö, which has a slightly maritime climate. More inland in Lapland it is somewhat rare, and its southernmost habitats are on the rich riverside meadows and mixed forests on the River Ivalojoki and on the fells of Pallastunturi and Saariselkä.

Yellow wood violet can be very abundant in the broad-leaved forests of Lapland, but it often goes unnoticed among bigger plants. It is most visible on meadows and snow-bed sites among low-growing tundra vegetation on the upper fells, where yellow wood violet’s flowers can be seen growing over large areas during its flowering time. Outwith its growing time it needs abundant snow cover: late-melting snow protects the frost-sensitive plant in uncertain weather during the spring and early summer in Lapland. It likes damp, sheltered, shady places and cannot be exposed to the wild forces of nature. Compared to other northern plants it is rather delicate, with thin, virtually translucent leaves and a fragile stem.

Like most other violets, yellow wood violet’s seeds have an oily appendage (elaiosome) that ants like to eat, so this gets them to drag the seed to a new growing place. There are not many ants around however in yellow wood violet’s habitat and so it is mainly spread by reindeer. Some of the seeds emerge unscathed from their difficult journey through the reindeer’s digestive tract, ready to try their luck at producing a new generation. In order to develop into a flowering plant it needs at least three growing seasons of constant daylight.

Two-flowered and violet

The genus name Viola comes from the most common colour of this genus and the species epithet biflora means 2-flowered. Is there a mistake in nomenclature? Because most of violets have violet-coloured flowers, the genus name is accepted. But what about biflora, two-flowered? Yellow wood violet like quite many other members in this family produce two kinds of flowers: beautiful ‘basic’ flowers and more modest flowers that don’t open but self-fertilize. With the yellow wood violet there are quite often two such cleistogamous flowers down among leaves. That gives the reason for the epithet biflora.

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family

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