Differences Between Pansies and Violets

Written by richard rowe
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Differences Between Pansies and Violets
The dark blotch around the centre of this Violacae marks it as a pansy. (Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Pansies and their violet cousins are both members of the genus Violacae, abbreviated "Viola" and consisting of over 400 species of pansies and violets worldwide. Violets and pansies are similar enough in appearance and lineage that even a retailer may not properly identify one or the other. The difference may come down to what the seller chooses to call them based on an accepted understanding of that particular species' common name.

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Pansies typically have much smaller flowers than violets; flowers sold as violas are typically a pansy/violet hybrid and act as a sort of stepping stone between the two in terms of size and appearance. The National Viola and Pansy Society sets the pansy/violet cut-off at 2 1/2 inches; pansies should have blooms less than 2 1/2 inches across, violet blooms must be at least 2 1/2 inches across.

Blotches and Rays

Almost all species of Violacae have streaks of darker pigment, or rays. radiating out from their centres, or eyes. How these rays come together is a major factor in determining whether a flower is a pansy or a violet. A violet's rays are thin and distinct, connecting to the eye without merging together; a pansy's rays coalesce together near the eye to form a blotch. To be considered a pansy, the Violacae must have some sort of blotch near its centre. Violacae sold as violas may or may not have a blotch, but generally do not. The denser, darker and more circular the blotch, the more valuable the pansy is.

Petal Shape and Texture

A violet should have thick, fleshy petals; some species of violet have a more velvety texture than others. Pansies also have thick, fleshy petals, but are far glossier. All Violacae have five total flower petals, three on the bottom and two on the top, but the violet's top two petals tend to be larger in proportion to the bottom three. The pansy's top two pedals tend to be a little smaller than the bottom three. There are no hard and fast rules regarding petal, ray or blotch colour, although violets tend to appear a little brighter than pansies since they lack a dark blotch in the centre.


Pansy blooms tend to hug the ground so tightly that they seem to lie directly upon it. While a violet may or may not have a typically long, flowerlike stem, the thick and distinct stem will almost always rise 1 or more inches above the ground surface. Pansies may also have stems, but they tend to be much shorter and thinner. Commercially labelled violas are more closely related to violets than to pansies, so they should have a distinct stem as well.

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