Description & Overview

Bird-foot Violet is a Wisconsin native perennial typically found in the central and southern counties of the state, in high-quality habitats such as open woodlands, Black Oak savannas, Jack Pine forests, and abandoned fields. The flowers of Bird-foot Violet are a treat in early spring and are especially loved by butterflies. The Pansy-like bluish-purple flowers sit atop deeply cut basal leaves sending the heart a-flutter after a long winter.

You may also know Bird-foot Violet as Bird’s-foot Violet or Crowfoot Violet.

Core Characteristics

Category: Perennial

Wisconsin Native: Yes

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 4

Mature Height: 3-7 inches

Mature Spread: 3-7 inches

Growth Rate: Slow

Growth Form: Upright, rhizomatous

Light Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade

Site Requirements: Dry-medium moisture, well-drained soils

Flower: Blue-purple, 5-petaled

Bloom Period: Late April – Mid-June, sometimes a re-bloom in early Fall

Foliage: Green, basal, deeply-divided, notched at or near the tips, 1" long

Fall Color: N/A

Urban Approved: Yes

Fruit Notes: Capsule, ¼-1/2" long. Splits open when ripe. Contains shiny brown seeds

Suggested Uses

This small woodland perennial provides pops of color in the early spring when little else is flowering. Diminutive pretty flowers provide pollinators with food after a long winter. With its need for well-draining soil, Bird-foot Violet can be a bit more temperamental than other violets, but there won’t be a problem if it is sited properly, in well-draining soil.

Plant Bird-foot Violet along the edges of gravelly paths and driveways as it would be lovely to walk along a path in early spring and be greeted by such a welcoming site.

Due to its love of well-draining soil, it would be a good addition to rock gardens, adding color early in the season.

Mix into a native or butterfly garden as it is a host plant for several species of butterflies!

It makes a great groundcover option if restoring pine-oak barrens in a sandy location or within drier woodland areas.

Bird-foot Violet is a Wisconsin native perennial typically found in the central and southern counties of the state, in high-quality habitats such as o…

Wildlife Value

By planting Bird-foot Violet you are doing a solid for the environment and our pollinator friends. Take pleasure not only in the beautiful blooms, but also knowing that you are connecting to what matters!

Bird-foot Violet is a great pollinator plant for a variety of butterfly species. The very structure of the flower encourages pollinators in a few ways. The throat of the lower petals is white with dark violet lines, which act as a nectar guide for insects. The flowers of Bird-foot Violet are held ‘face-up,’ allowing insects to easily land, making it more attractive to butterflies and skippers.

It is a host plant to Fritillary butterflies and is especially preferred by the Regal Fritillary (Speyeria idalia), as well as Bog (Boloria eunomia), Silver-bordered (Boloria selene), Aphrodite (Speyeria aphrodite), Meadow (Boloria bellona), Great Spangled (Speyeria cybele), Atlantis (Speyeria atlantis), Variegated (Euptoieta Claudia), and The Beggar (Eubaphe mendica).

Skipper butterflies, bumblebees, and digger bees (Anthophorine spp.) are also common visitors.

Aside from the typical insects, ants are attracted to the sugary coating secreted by the seeds, which they carry back to their nests thereby aiding in dispersal; this process is known as myrmecochory.

Maintenance Tips

It is very important to plant Bird-foot Violet in a site with well-draining soil. We can’t stress this enough. If in conditions that are too moist, the plant can suffer from root rot.

When in the right conditions, this plant will readily reseed. It does not spread by stolons like many other violets.

Keep away competition so as not to overcrowd plants.

There is no need for fertilization as this species tends to prefer leaner soils.

Bird-foot Violet is a Wisconsin native perennial typically found in the central and southern counties of the state, in high-quality habitats such as o…

Pests/Problems

Black Walnut Tolerant: Yes
Deer Resistant: Yes
Rabbit Resistant: No

Bird-foot Violet is susceptible to crown rot if drainage isn’t excellent.

Rabbits will eat the foliage.

Leaf Lore

The genus Viola is Latin for “various sweet-scented flowers” while the specific epithet pedata means ‘like a bird’s foot’ referencing the deeply cut, lobed leaves that give the appearance of a bird’s foot.

Young leaves and flower buds can be eaten raw, cooked, or made into tea. Infusions of the roots have been used to treat coughs, colds, and dysentery.

Bird-foot Violet petals can be blue-purple or bicolored where the upper petals are dark purple and the lower ones are blue-purple. It is suggested that the anthocyanin levels in bicolor flowers act as a chemical defense against herbivory. Neat.

Companion Plants

The following plants thrive in similar conditions: Pasque Flower (Anemone patens), Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum), Upland White Goldenrod (Solidago ptarmicoides), Spotted Bee Balm (Monarda punctata), Hairy Wild Petunia (Ruellia humilis), Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa), Eastern Prickly Pear (Opuntia humifusa), Hairy Penstemon (Penstemon hirsutus), Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), Sand Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata), Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis), and Prairie Phlox (Phlox pilosa).

Bird-foot Violet is a Wisconsin native perennial typically found in the central and southern counties of the state, in high-quality habitats such as o…
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Written by Beth DeLain