Viola labradorica 'purpurea' = V. riviniana? (what's the story)

lrobins(z5 CO)August 1, 2002

Just following up on a comment someone made in a previous thread. To provide context for my question, I've been doing research on low-growing, eastern U.S. native wildflowers suitable for a low "front border" to a native perennial garden (with medium to tall plants). Of course, violets are generally low-growing, and there are many North American species. In looking through the catalogs of native plant nurseries near my area, I've seen several reference to Viola labradorica, or V. labradorica purpurea. This puzzled me a bit because reference books say that V. labradorica is native to Labrador, Greenland, and Nova Scotia. Most plants from that far "up north" wouldn't be happy in our hot summers, and wouldn't be carried by local nurseries. The comment in the other thread suggests the answer to this mystery: the purported V. labradorica is really V. riviniana, a more adaptable European not North American species. Is this now generally accepted (at least by knowledgeable botanists)? If so, why does the apparent mis-identification persist, in other words why don't the nurseries start referring to the plant as V. riviniana purpurea?

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Mike Hardman(Cyprus, 100m altitude)

Yes - confusion persists.
Here's a stab at explaining it.

Most plants sold as Viola labradorica or Viola labradorica purpurea (various concoctions of spelling and puncuation) are actually a purple leaved form of Viola riviniana. Current opinion is that this should be called Viola riviniana Purpurea Group (first two words in italics, second two words in normal Roman type and without any quotes). The 'purpurea' suffix to the Viola labradorica name was used to indicate a form with more-purple leaves, but the plant encompasses a range of leaf-purplenesses, so such a qualification may not be very useful. Also, the leaves vary in purpleness depending on the time of year and temperatures and light levels.
This mis-naming has been around for ages, and because of that, it is difficult to displace in many growers minds - in just the same way that Pelargoniums are commonly called geraniums. A few nurserymen do list the plant as Viola riviniana Purpurea Group, but most still use some spelling variant of Viola labradorica/purpurea, and may continue to do so if they see it as beneficial for their sales. It can be very difficult to turn the tide on these things. The recent re-naming of Aubretia to Aubrieta will probably take many years swimming against the tide before it gains a firm footing, eg.

Viola labradorica is a valid species, as you describe, but I have yet to see it in cultivation. (It would be interesting to know whether any nurseries in Nova Scotia actually stock it.)

Footnote: Viola riviniana Purpurea Group seems to be gaining adoption, but I am not 100% sure it is the best name, since there is also a Viola purpurea, and the ICNCP frowns upon a cultivar group having the same name as a species in the same denomination group. The issue then is the extent of the denomintion group - Viola or Viola riviniana. Opinions vary.


    Bookmark   August 1, 2002 at 5:27AM
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I want to see true Viola labradorica in the web.Show me URL of the sites involving photos of true Viola labradorica.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2004 at 11:16PM
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Vicki_J(z6a NJ)

There is a photograph of v. labradorica in the book The Genus Viola of Maine by Arthur Haines.Published in 2001 the author bases much of his work on Ballard's studies so I feel confidant in Mr. Haines'taxonomy.
I purchased my copy from The bookshop of the New England Wildflower Society. You can also get it at

hope this helps

    Bookmark   March 6, 2004 at 1:02PM
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Vicki_J(z6a NJ)

Given thatyou are in Japan and it may not be practical for you to mail order the book,try contacting the author via his email address or take a look at his web site The photographs of violets are his and perhaps he can email this particular one to you.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2004 at 3:49PM
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rufino(z10 Florida)

There is a picture of the true Viola labradorica on the USDA Plants Database website.

Here is a link that might be useful: Viola labradorica

    Bookmark   June 23, 2011 at 10:36PM
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Thankyou all for the very interesting comments here. I have been growing the plant referred to as 'Viola labradorica' for many years. It is often available for sale in plant nurseries here in Australia. I once had a pink flowering form which I lost and haven't yet replaced. The leaves were not as deeply coloured as the standard blue-flowered form, which is presently in flower in my garden. A delightful pest really, self seeds and pops up all over the place! Mike, I trust in your explanation about it being 'Viola riviniana Purpurea Group'. I have always regarded Viola riviniana as being a little 'woodland violet' (mistakenly thought it was V. sylvestris for many years) - well now there is one with green leaves and one with purple leaves which is an easy way to describe it. Some of my gardening friends would look at me very strangely if I tried to tell them the climbing geraniums over the fence are pelargoniums.:)

    Bookmark   October 16, 2012 at 10:10AM
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I ordered v. labradorica from Goodwin Creek just a few weeks ago and got the purple leaved variety. This has been an interesting read!

    Bookmark   October 16, 2012 at 2:33PM
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ontnative(5b Can/USDA 4)

Here in Canada, many nurseries are still selling viola riviniana as V. labradorica purpurea, and listing it as a North American native. For those of us who like to grow "natives", it is easy to get fooled.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2012 at 8:44AM
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A reference here which may be of interest: Please try to get hold of a book "Violets of the United States" by Doretta Klaber 1976; via the public library or second hand book trade. It is exceptionally well researched and illustrated.

About Viola labradorica, Doretta Klaber illustrates and describes a plant with "very dark purple rosette of its early leaves." Further she writes:

"It is found in only a few northern locations in this country, a bog near the shores of Lake Superior, Cook County in Minnesota, the White Mountains in New Hampshire, and Alaska."

"As it is found in both bogs and woodland, rich, moist, well-drained soil is indicated with half shade unless especially wet."

    Bookmark   November 5, 2012 at 7:35AM
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Hello: I find this theme accidentally. And go to the garden to see my Viola labradorica plants. As I believe, itôs a stemmed violet. And I suppose Viola riviniana Purpurea Group is stemmless. So that will be an easy way to identify them.
Lovely forum you maintain. Thanks for teaching in this theme.
Best regards, eduardo

    Bookmark   January 7, 2015 at 8:06AM
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