Note: This article was first published in April 2005, and was updated for the web February 2008.
By April our Northwoods (and shady lawns) are dappled with the purpley-blue to white shades of common blue (Viola sororia), dog (V. labradorica) and long-spurred (V. rostata) violets. In wetlands you may come across a marsh blue (V. cucullata). White and yellow violets bloom a bit later in the season and include the Canada (V. canadensis), sweet white (V. blanda), Northern white (V. macloskeyi) and downy yellow (V. pubescens). Besides color, you may recognize this second wave of violets because they’re leggier than their blue counterparts, though they still bear the characteristic five petals and heart-shaped leaves.
If perchance you find yourself deep in the forest, face-to-face with a five-petaled purple flower that looks violetlike – except that its leaves are long and linear – it could well be a bird-foot violet. Wish it well, and then be on your way; bird-foot violets are protected in Michigan. Also note: African violets are not in the same genus as the violets listed above and are not edible.