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What Is the State Flower of Rhode Island? Characteristics, History, & Symbols

Wood Violet

Each state in the US has its unique floral emblem. When it comes to the official floral emblem of Rhode Island, a specific charming flower called Viola sororia takes the spotlight. In the less formal sense, that flower is known as the Common Violet. The Common Violet is a lovely, eccentric low-growing plant with distinctive purple flowers that emerge from charming heart-shaped foliage.

The appearance of this plant and its energy is why the school children of Rhode Island voted this flower to be the official state flower of Rhode Island. While the children voted in 1897, it was only after 70 years that the official bill was brought to make the Common Violet one of many state’s symbols. The General Assembly officially adopted the flower on March 11, 1968.

Read on below to learn more about how the Common Violet received such a huge honor.

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Violet Characteristics

Botanical name: Viola sororia
Common names: Common Blue Violet, Wood Violet, Woolly Blue Violet, Meadow Violet
Leaf color: Green
Bloom color: Purple, White, Pink, Blue
Size: 3 to 8 inches high
Plant type: Annual
USDA Hardiness zones: Zones 3 to 7
Soil requirement: Moist, rich soil
Sun requirement: Partial shade


Viola sororia is a stemless perennial plant with charming heart-shaped leaves that grow from the rhizomes. The leaves are green, smooth, and glossy, but what makes this plant unique are the lovely violet flower petals. Each flower has five vivid purple petals with yellow centers, standing on top of leafless stalks. The flower stems are erect, although the flowers bend towards the ground on the very tips. The plant can grow up to 8 inches high and wide and has versatile use. You can plant the common violet in garden beds, edges, borders, and containers.

Wood Violet Growing
Image Credit: Kristine Rad, Shutterstock


The Common Violet usually grows as a wildflower in gardens, borders, and woodlands. They prefer moist and shaded areas with well-drained soil. They can tolerate full sun, but only when enough moisture is provided. Violas tend to grow freely and can become invasive when the site is not mowed frequently.


While the Common Violet has a bland taste and isn’t considered tasty, it is actually an edible plant. Since violets are full of vitamins A and C, many gardeners and cooks use raw violet leaves for salads or cooked as greens; some even believe that the roots are edible. They can also be made into jellies and candies. Viola sororia is also excellent for tea brewing since it is thought to have anti-inflammatory effects. It is also considered to treat colds, headaches, and constipation.


The Common Violet is heat and cold-resistant, making it straightforward to grow and thrive in most conditions. The flower enjoys moist, well-drained soil, preferably with a small amount of substrate added, such as vermiculite or perlite. While this variety of violet enjoys a lot of sun exposure, the leaves tend to burn when exposed to direct sunlight for too long. On the other hand, when violets get insufficient sunlight throughout the day, the stems can get weak and thin, and the entire plant will begin to flop over.

Risks and Diseases

Although they are resistant to deers, violets tend to have issues with pests such as slugs, snails, aphids, and spider mites. Another common issue that may occur on violets is the powdery mildew and pansy leaf spot.

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Becoming the State Flower of Rhode Island

The story of how the Common Violet became the state flower of Rhode Island dates back to 1897. The man credited for organizing the first referendum for the state flower is Thomas Stockwell, Rhode Island School Commissioner. The first vote was made up of 10 flower species, which the school children of Rhode Island were supposed to vote for. The 10 finalists, including the Common Violet, were rose, lily, water lily, pink, pansy, daisy, buttercup, arbutus, and goldenrod. Once the children finished voting, the final counts added up to 10,013 votes for the Violet flower to be the state flower of Rhode Island.

The state announced these results on Arbor day 1897. Nevertheless, the Rhode Island General Assembly never made the children’s vote official, leaving this issue unresolved.

It was only until 1967, 70 years later, that a politician and a teacher Francis Sherman, introduced a crucial bill. This time, the General Assembly took action and made the Common Violet Rhode Island’s official floral emblem on March 11, 1968.

On March 13, 2001, another bill was introduced by Senator Susan Sosnowski, which was meant to update the previous bill. The new, updated bill changed the Latin name of the Common Violet from Viola palmata to Viola sororia. This second bill was made official by the General Assembly on July 31, 2001.

wood violet
Image Credit: Oleksandr Filatov, Shutterstock

Other Rhode Island State Symbols

State Flag

  • An anchor, 13 golden stars, blue ribbon with the word ‘’hope’’
  • Adopted in 1877

State Seal

  • Anchor with the word ‘’hope’’
  • Adopted on May 4, 1664

State Bird

  • Rhode Island Red
  • Adopted on May 3, 1954

State Beverage

  • Coffee Milk
  • Adopted on July 29, 1993
Viola sororia common violet
Viola sororia common violet (Image Credit: Dcrjsr, Wikimedia Commons CC 3.0 Unported)

State Fish

  • Striped Bass
  • Adopted on July 13, 2000

State Fruit

  • Rhode Island Greening Apple
  • Adopted on June 20, 1991

State Mineral

  • Bowenite
  • Discovered in northern Rhode Island by geologist George Bowen
  • Adopted on May 26, 1966

State Tree

  • Red Maple
  • Adopted on March 6, 1964

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Final Thoughts

After reading this brief history of how violet became the state flower of Rhode Island, hopefully, you will notice its role and importance a bit more. Many symbols embellish one state, but the floral emblems may be the most magical symbols. Once the Common Violet became the official floral emblem of Rhode Island, it gained a significant role in enriching the culture of this state and showing all that the state has to offer.

Featured Image Credit: Predrag Lukic, Shutterstock


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