Learn which plants thrive in your Hardiness Zone with our new interactive map!

California Wild Violets

By Chris McLaughlin ; Updated September 21, 2017

The California wild violet (Viola adunca) has other common names, such as Western Dog violet, California Sweet violet, and Hookedspur violet. It's a perennial herb that's semi-evergreen. The Western Dog violet, native to California's coastal bluffs and Sierra Nevada foothills, has an extremely sweet fragrance.

Viola Adunca's Growth Habits

The California sweet violet has heart-shaped, dark green leaves and grows 3-6 inches tall. It's flowers have five, bluish-lavender petals with two situated upright at the top and three across the bottom. The three petals at the bottom have a white base. In cold climates, Viola adunca's blossoms show up in the spring. But in zones that have mild winter areas, they can bloom for fall to spring. The herb spreads by stolons as well as seeds, so there's potential for the little violet to become invasive.

How to Grow California Sweet Violet

If you've purchased your violets from a nursery or garden center, they'll either come in six packs or in a plant flat. Sometimes, they're actually V. adunca labeled as V.odorada. If they've been grown together in a flat, you'll want to divide them into clumps. Choose a garden area where the violas will get sun for at least half of the day preferably morning sun. If you're in a zone that has extremely hot summers, plant them in the shade. Viola adunca grows best in zones 1-9 and 14-24.

The California wild violet isn't picky about soil. In fact, it grow well in just about every type. That said, like so many other plants, they tend to thrive in those that are well-drained and richly organic. Space the young viola clumps about 6-8 inches apart when planting them. They need only moderate water and once established, is semi-drought tolerant.

Propagating Viola Adunca

The California wild violet naturally reproduces itself by seed and underground runners called stolons. You can propagate them the same way by either saving the seeds after the plant has flowered, produced a seed head, and the seeds have dried. To make use of their natural stolon reproduction, you could wait until a large clump forms and then divide the plant into smaller clumps. This is called division.

The final way to propagate the violas is by cuttings. It's important to take cuttings from new shoots in late spring, late summer, or fall. You want to cut a shoot off just below the joint of a strong stem. The piece should be 2 1/2 - 3 inches long. Trim off any flower buds and all of the bottom leaves; leaving some of them at the top.

Plant the cuttings in a soil made of half potting soil and half sharp sand. They should root within two weeks and when you notice new growth on the cutting, it can be potted up.

Uses in the Garden Landscape

The Western Dog violet is a cheerful, little perennial that can be used to the gardeners advantage. One of the best places for these violas is in a woodland garden. The cool soil and dappled sun light create the perfect environment for the California native. They're also make wonderful groundcover next to ponds, streams, and lakes. They grow happily all summer long in northern gardens and thrive in pots, hanging baskets and other containers.

Violas as Edible Flowers

The flowers of violas are indeed, edible. While the blossoms' flavor is a mellow one, the bright color brightens any dish. Viola blooms are used in jellies, jams, teas, souffles, and salads. They're used as a garnish to enhance the main dish, cheeses, or as the focal point on cakes. Violets are can also be candied or used in stuffing. As an extra perk, they also just happen to be full of vitamin C.


About the Author


Chris McLaughlin has been gardening for over 30 years and is a Master Gardener in the San Francisco Bay Area. She's on staff as a blogger for Vegetable Gardener.com, a contributor to Fine Gardening.com, and the San Francisco Gardening Examiner at Examiner.com. She's written for magazines such as The Herb Companion and Urban Farm, and just finished her book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Composting.