Arctic yellow violet
Viola biflora var. biflora (notes in Identification section)
Arctic yellow violet
small yellow violet
yellow wood violet
Viola biflora var. biflora
Viola biflora var. carlottae
Duration – Growth Habit
Perennial – Forb/herb
Identification and Information
Viola biflora, also known as the Arctic Yellow Violet or sometimes as Yellow Wood Violet, is a perennial herb deriving from a rhizome and fibrous roots. It does not produce stolons (runners). The stems are ascending to erect, smooth, and leafless except on the uppermost section, and they can range from 5-20 cm tall. The leaves are basal, rounded to heart- or kidney-shaped, and blunt- to saw-toothed. Leaf blades can be 0.6-2 cm long, 1-3 cm wide, and the stalks are 8-16 cm long. The stalks are hairy above and along the veins. Stem leaves are similar to basal leaves, with shorter stalks that are equal to or longer than the blades. Stipules are lanceolate, 2-5 mm long, and entire.
The inflorescence is composed of single axillary flowers (each individual flower is growing by itself from the place where a leaf meets the stem). The petals are yellow, and there are five of them, with the lower petal being 9-12 mm long, including the 1- to 2-mm long spur. Flower stalks present distinctive purple lines. The sepals are also five in number, oblong, fringed in the upper half, and with a conspicuous purple-black stripe. The style heads are smooth. Fruits are sparsely short-haired capsules, 8-12 mm long, containing brown seeds.
Viola biflora var. biflora is a subspecies of Viola biflora also occurring in Alaska. It is widely distributed throughout Eurasia, the Yukon, and Colorado. It shares many characteristics with the parent species but has a few distinguishing features. It tends to have a smaller lower petal, ranging only from 6-10 mm, and smaller seeds ranging from 1.5-2 mm. It typically inhabits mountainous and arctic regions, tundra, mesic alpine meadows, scree slopes, grassy places in the shade of alders and willows, lake margins, granite outcrops, moist coniferous forests, along streams and falls in wet moss, alluvial soil, and sand.
Viola biflora has been known to hybridize with V. glabella. The plant is frequently found on the Queen Charlotte Islands but is rare on NW Vancouver Island; it extends North to Southeast Alaska.
For information only (typically historical) – I take no responsibility for adverse effects from the use of any plant.
Viola biflora, also known as the Arctic Yellow Violet or Twoflower Violet, has been known to have several uses, both culinary and cultural.
In a culinary context, the young leaves and flower buds of the plant can be eaten either raw or cooked. When added to soups, they have a thickening effect, similar to the use of okra. The flowers of the plant, which are typically yellow, can also be eaten raw. However, caution is advised with this practice, as the consumption of large quantities of yellow flowers has been known to cause diarrhea. In addition, tea can be made from the leaves of the Viola biflora [PFAF].
Culturally, the plant has had significant use amongst the Eskimo Inuktitut. Documented in ‘Notes on Ethnobotany in Inuktitut’ by Michael R. Wilson, the stems with blossoms of Viola biflora were placed among clothes for their fragrance, serving as a form of natural incense.
Please note that while these uses have been documented, further research and consultation with a medical or botanical professional are advised before attempting to use Viola biflora or any other plant for medicinal or culinary purposes.
Distribution and Habitat
Viola biflora is a widespread species found in various parts of the world. It’s native to Europe, Siberia, Central Asia, Pakistan, western and northern China, North Korea, Japan, and Western North America, including Alaska, Colorado, British Columbia, and the Yukon.
V. biflora thrives in alpine environments. This includes tundra, alpine meadows, scree slopes, in the shade of alders and willows, rock outcroppings, and along streams and falls.
|Scientific Name (Common Name)
|Plantae (plantes, Planta, Vegetal, plants)
|Viridiplantae (green plants)
|Streptophyta (land plants)
|Tracheophyta (vascular plants, tracheophytes)
|Spermatophytina (spermatophytes, seed plants, phanérogames)
|Violaceae (violets, violettes)
|Viola L. (violettes, violet)
|Viola biflora L. (arctic yellow violet)
|Viola biflora var. biflora L. (arctic yellow violet)
|Viola biflora var. carlottae (Calder & Roy L. Taylor) B. Boivin (Carlott’s violet)
References and Further Reading
Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers, Pratt, Verna E. pg. 8 (mention under Alaska violet)
Classification and Taxonomy
Viola biflora L. Taxonomic Serial No.: 22048, ITIS Database
Violaceae Viola biflora L., Native American Ethnobotany Database
Viola biflora – L., Plants For A Future
Map and Distribution
Viola biflora L. Published in: L. (1753). In: Sp. Pl. 936., GBIF Database
Description and Information
Viola biflora Linnaeus, Flora of North America
Viola biflora var. biflora, Flora of North America