Viola beckwithii

Submitted by Weiser on Fri, 01/14/2011 - 22:00

Viola beckwithii is a spectacularly beautiful violet of the eastern Sierra Nevada and northern Great Basin Steppes. Their bright little faces are seen dancing with the wind in early spring on drying meadows and sagebrush scrub. The fuzzy green/gray leaves are ternate with dissected linear leaflets. Hovering above these cushiony mounds are the pansy faced flowers. The lower petals in shades of fusha-white,with violet veins and yellow bases. The velvety upper petals are a deep maroon/purple.They often are found growing in loosely organized clonal fairy rings 12-18 inches across.

They are well adapted to the dry climate and lithosol soils. In early summer they go dormant retreating under ground until the next spring. Their growing season is form March through the middle of July. The growing point (crown? pip? bud?) is found four to six inches deep the spreading fleshy roots reaching even deeper is search of moisture.


Submitted by Hoy on Sat, 01/15/2011 - 01:13

A remarkably violet, John. Have you tried to sow this species and grow it in your garden? It is no violet like this in Norway and I wonder if this one could grow either at my summerhouse in the mountains or at the coast.
A dwarf Violet species, V. rupestris, is growing at the mountain cabin. This too is summer dormant but not as showy as beckwithii.

Submitted by Weiser on Sat, 01/15/2011 - 07:41

I do grow a few plants but is hard to get it to establish.
The seed set is sparse most years because of the cool temperatures and lack of active pollinators, so timing is everything when you want to collect them. (I have not been able too collect enough seed to send to the seed exchanges yet. I still keep looking for that bumper crop to appear. I am sure that one day it will.) I scattered the seed over a suitable bed and have had only a few sprout.
So I have attempted, to transplant younger plants into the garden. Getting them out of the rocky soil, in reasonably good shape, has it's own set of challenges. In order to find them they have to be sprouting and the leaf stems are delicate and break off easily. When you are able to get down to the crown, ( by digging an ever expanding hole due to the tightly interlocked, rock and wet clay, substrait) care is needed, so that too many off the firmly anchored roots are not snapped off. All the while you are prying chunks of sharp angular rock loose.  I did find a sizeable colony, on a some what less rocky sight, that made the process a little more manageable. Six transplants have grudgingly made the move, reestablished and flower for me.

Viola rupestris is showy in it's own way! It is a lovely, delicate, little thing and I would grow it. Have you tried to move it into your other garden?

Submitted by Hoy on Sat, 01/15/2011 - 08:39

John, I have not tried it other places yet but it sets copious amounts of seeds so it shouldn't be difficult to try. No need for digging in difficult substrate! If you want seeds can I collect some, no problem.

Submitted by Mark McD on Sat, 01/15/2011 - 10:43

No other way to put it John, V. beckwithii is a spectacularly beautiful violet, one of the gems of the genus.  I love the foliage on these too.  Panayoti posted a photo of this on the Image of the Day topic, and I followed up with another species reminiscent of V. beckwithii, namely V. trinervata.

Submitted by RickR on Sat, 01/15/2011 - 21:12

I so love to see photos taken in the wild.  They say so much more about the plant.  Thanks so much, John.

Boy, with V. beckwithii having such a deep crown, there must be some very interesting childhood growth patterns to get down so far.  Did you ever notice any contractile roots or remnants?

Submitted by Weiser on Sun, 01/16/2011 - 07:48

Good question!
Learn something new every day. I had never heard the term "contractile roots" before. I had to look it up.
I have not noticed contractile roots, but then I never would have thought to wash one off and see.(I even learned how to use the term in a sentence ;)) They do have a one or two short rhizomes that run off a few inches from crown to crown. The only remnants I see, are a lose sheath of dead leaf stems and flowerstalks extending three to four inches above the crown. It seems that the new growth follows the same basic path toward the surface every year.
If I collect any more I will have to take a more detailed look, than I have in the past.

Submitted by Lori S. on Sun, 01/16/2011 - 10:13

What an amazing plant form for a viola! 
Rick, I was about to ask how one would recognize contractile roots (as compared to deeply-penetrating but "ordinary" roots).  Then I googled it and discovered that I have indeed seen them... on all the little bulbs I unearthed last summer while moving plants around.

Submitted by RickR on Sun, 01/16/2011 - 18:44

Contractile roots are quite common with bulbous species, especially in their younger years.  They are present even on my Gladiolus atroviolaceus cormlets.

Submitted by Boland on Mon, 01/24/2011 - 18:05

That is one of the most beautiful Viola I've seen!

Submitted by Paul T on Mon, 02/07/2011 - 14:59

Wow, John.  Those leaves are just so amazing for a violet.  Thanks heaps for showing us.

Submitted by Peter George on Mon, 02/07/2011 - 15:37

I've bought seed from Alplains in the past, and never gotten any germination. Harvey Wrightman assures me that if I used GA3 I'd get about 80% germination, and I may try it next week or so. I've never purchased plants the few times they've been available either. It remains one of those mysterious beauties we can only dream about, but maybe someday I'll get one or two to grow here in Baffin Island South.

Submitted by Longma on Sat, 11/24/2012 - 10:34


Weiser wrote:

I do grow a few plants but is hard to get it to establish.
The seed set is sparse most years because of the cool temperatures and lack of active pollinators, so timing is everything when you want to collect them. (I have not been able too collect enough seed to send to the seed exchanges yet. I still keep looking for that bumper crop to appear. I am sure that one day it will.) I scattered the seed over a suitable bed and have had only a few sprout.

Hi John, I have been offered a decent amount of fresh seed next year and am in the process of gathering as much information as I can regarding its cultivation. Could you give any extra advice other than what you posted already please? :)

Submitted by Weiser on Sun, 11/25/2012 - 08:29

We find viola beckwithii growing on the rocky slopes and benches of the alluvial fans. The finer soil components are mineral clays, laced with the courser material made up of various sized chunks of basalt. These soils are very wet and sticky in the early spring. As the weather warms they dry into a tight matrix that is hard to penetrate with digging tools. During this drying period (usually starting in June) the plants will go into an obligatory dormancy. During this summer dormant period very little if any additional moisture is acquired.
In my garden,the plants I have successfully transplanted do get a modest amount of additional moisture and don't seem to resent it. By no means does that mean they are kept moist at all times. I have them planted in raised beds composed of lithosol substrates at the edge of the irrigated areas. This allows their roots to seek out the available resource without soaking the growing point. This added moisture allows them to postpone their obligatory summer dormancy for about a month.
Damp winter and early spring conditions are normally followed by very dry summer and fall seasons.

Do you mind my asking were do you garden? In wet climates you may need to plant them in raised sand beds. I think the key is to insure the substrate is allowed to dry is out during the summer dormancy or at least drain readily.


Submitted by Longma on Sun, 11/25/2012 - 10:11

Thanks very much for sharing this information John.  :) I am confident now that I can recreate the correct growing conditions ;D

I garden in the North East of England, but will be seeking to grow this species undercover all year. I grow many plants of the West Coast Fritillaria and suspected that this species may be a good one to grow in with the mountain species such as F.glauca, F.purdyi, F.pinetorum, F.atropurpurea etc. All of these are grown in ( too many ) pots, so I am in the process of constructing some large raised beds inside a 60 ft polytunnel. These beds will house many of my Fritillaria but I'm hoping to get some other plants in from outside the genus. Viola beckwithii was offered to me and seemed to be a good fit for these beds. I read, however, that it is a difficult species to germinate. I'm sure I can grow the plant successfully ( under these tightly controlled conditions ), but didn't want to accept the seed, as it would be wasted, if I couldn't germinate it. I have since read up as much as I can on the species and have formulated a theory regarding germination for them. So I'll be trying them from fresh seed next year. I noticed that you had scattered some seed in 2011 and was wondering if you had noticed further germination this year, or if you could shed any further light on germinating this species?
I will also be trying Astragalus whitneyi in the same beds.

Submitted by Weiser on Mon, 11/26/2012 - 08:13

I have only sown seed the one time and the seedlings are doing well. I'm not too familiar with germinating them in pots. I would assume they need some amount of stratification.

I grow Astragalus whitneyi var. lenophyllus they are easy from seed.

Submitted by Longma on Mon, 11/26/2012 - 08:20

Thank you for the information John. 8)

Silene serpentinicola is another that will be growing in the beds. I'm hoping its not too 'weedy'. It is a beautiful, stunning, Silene, bit I'm worried it may spread around aggressively? :-\

Submitted by Weiser on Wed, 11/28/2012 - 07:29

Take a look at some of the smaller species of Penstemons and Eriogonums. You should find several worth trying especially the high elevation species. 

Submitted by externmed on Wed, 02/27/2013 - 13:28

It's amazing when one considers what has been done with plant (and animal) breeding.
How cool would it be if these plants could be bred to not go dormant until fall and to grow in other climates!

Submitted by Merlin on Tue, 03/12/2013 - 14:51

It has been a while since i have been on here but as the garden comes back to life so does my enthusiasm. I have grown V. beckwithii for many years now, it is very long lived though flowering waxes and wanes from year to year. I have found the trick to flowering with this plant is ample very early spring moisture and keeping it very dry soon after seed is set. gathering seed can be a pain if you wait too long as it sends them flying once the pod has dried. as of today(3-12-2013) all my plants of this species have broken dormancy and have barely come above ground.

Submitted by Weiser on Tue, 03/12/2013 - 15:06

Our's are also coming up, I have a couple of flowers on them already too. A sure sign of spring!!
Are yours all the white color form or do you get the lavender and reddish purple forms to?

Submitted by ClifflineGardens on Thu, 03/14/2013 - 07:42

I thought Viola pedata was the most beautiful Violet, I stand corrected. The foliage is choice.

Submitted by Weiser on Thu, 03/14/2013 - 10:23

Here is my first V. beckwithii of the season.

Submitted by Longma on Thu, 03/14/2013 - 11:35

I think my seedlings are about to put in an appearance,  ;D. The surface of the covering mixture is just beginning to show signs of being raised,  ;D

Submitted by Weiser on Thu, 03/14/2013 - 11:54

Glad to here it show us some shots when they emerge!