Northern California Wild Violets


The California golden violet is more formally known as Viola pedunculata. Much less grand are some of its other common names, such as johnny-jump-up, grass pansy, wild pansy and yellow pansy. The California violet is a perennial herb that is native to that state but also grows in other parts of western North America.


The California golden violet is a member of the Violaceae family.

Growing Conditions

This perennial is a diminutive 6 inches or so tall with scented yellow flowers that often have a hint of purple. It has a definite preference for partial shade, but since it is a Californian, it takes to sunny locations as well. Summer is its dormant season, so the California golden violet goes without water during this time, though rich, well-drained and moist soil is one of its prerequisites for looking good.

Scaling the Heights

In the wild, the California golden violet favors slopes, growing anywhere up to a height of about 3,280 feet.

Partnership With Trees

Among the trees under which the California golden violet grows happily are chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum), buckbrush (Ceanothus cuneatus), blue oak (Quercus douglasii) and valley oak (Quercus lobata).

Winsome Yellow Flowers

In an essay published in April 1902 in the "San Francisco Chronicle," Lillian E. Purdy writes nostalgically about the days when wildflowers were abundant within the city of San Francisco, and about the Lake Merced area where they grew still. "To me one of the most winsome of the flowers found in this field is the wild pansy or johnny-jump-up. ... The red-brown and purple shades of the under side of its petals peep out as it nods and dances gracefully on its tall stem." Purdy goes on to describe the purple buds that "rear themselves to the sunlight and turn their golden faces upward." She mentions how lovely these bright yellow flowers look indoors as table decorations.

Mid-20th Century

Less than 50 years later, the wildflower picture was dramatically different. Alice Eastwood, a botanist who created a record of the native plants of San Francisco, wrote in 1945: "In the 1890s the open country everywhere around San Francisco was a beautiful wild flower garden in the spring. The yellow violet, Viola pedunculata, was especially common, known to the children as johnny-jump-up. Today, new roads, golf links, vegetable fields, and human habitations have driven them away and it is doubtful if a single native flower persists."

Happy Trails

Among other locations, the Russian Ridge open space preserve overlooking San Francisco Bay and the Santa Cruz Mountains is home to Viola pedunculata and other wildflowers of Northern California that still exist. Online postings provide photos and details of such sightings.

Keywords: California golden violet, johnny-jump-up, Viola pedunculata

About this Author

Based in Northern California, Maureen Katemopoulos has been a freelance writer for more than 25 years. Her articles on travel, the arts, cuisine and history have appeared in publications such as "Stanislaus Magazine," "Orientations," "The Asia Magazine" and "The Peninsula Group Magazine." She holds a Baccalaureate degree in journalism from Stanford University.