Perennial herb 10 - 45 cm tall Leaves: few, possibly one basal, one to three alternate near top of stem, stalked, densely soft-hairy, 4 - 10 cm long, and with over eighteen rounded teeth per side. If a basal leaf is present, it is somewhat kidney-shaped, but the stem leaves are somewhat broad egg-shaped (normally a bit wider than long) with straight or wedge-shaped base and rounded tip. Stipules green, non-toothed, broadly egg-shaped, often widest just above base, and abruptly narrowing to a short, slender, pointed tip. Flowers: in upper leaf axils, slender-stalked, yellow, bilaterally symmetric with two upper petals, two lateral petals, and lower petal with base modified into a rounded nectar spur. In the summer, producing very fertile flowers that do not open (cleistogamous). Sepals: five, green, lance-shaped with ear-like appendages (auricles) at the base. Petals: five, separate, all differently shaped, clear yellow with brownish purple veins near base. The two lateral petals have a beard of hairs near the base, and the lowest petal is prolonged at its base into a short, rounded spur or sac. Stamens: five, separate, but very tightly arranged so anthers touch as they surround ovary. The filaments are very short, and the lower two stamens have spur-like nectaries on their backs that extend into the spur or sac of the lower petal. Pistil: with a single-chambered, superior ovary; and a single hairy-tipped style that enlarges below the head-shaped stigma. Fruit: a many-seeded, 1 - 1.2 cm long, elongate, hairy or hairless capsule that opens lengthwise from top. The seeds are pale brown and have a large amount of oily endosperm, and often an appendage (aril). Stems: one to two, erect, densely soft-hairy, producing both leaves and flowers, and arising from a short, stout, very scaly, yellow rhizome.
Similar species: Viola pubescens var. pubescens is very similar to the other variety in this species, V. pubescens var. scabriuscula, but that variety usually has at least two stems, mostly hairless leaves, one to three basal leaves, inversely heart-shaped stem leaves (pointed tip and lobed base), only up to eighteen teeth per leaf side, and more elliptic to narrowly egg-shaped upper stipules with a short blunt-point at the tip.
Flowering: April to June
Habitat and ecology: Common in woodlands and mesophytic savannas or beech forests.
Occurence in the Chicago region: native
Notes: This taxon has in the past been known under the scientific name Viola pensylvanica.
Etymology: Viola is the classical name for the genus. Pubescens means "downy, short-haired" referring to the softly hairy leaves.