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Viola cornuta (horned pansy)

A popular bedding plant with a light fragrance, horned pansy is native to the Pyrenees.
Pale purple flower of horned pansy

Viola cornuta (horned pansy) photographed near the Lac de Fabrège, Artouste (Pyrenees) (Image: Sven Landrein)

Species information

Scientific name: 

Viola cornuta L.

Common name: 

horned pansy, bedding pansy (English); pensée cornue (French)

Conservation status: 

Not considered to be threatened.


Montane pastures (often associated with cattle).

Key Uses: 


Known hazards: 

None known.


Genus: Viola

About this species

Viola cornuta is one of a group of species known as pansies (Viola section Melanium). Pansies differ from violets in that pansy flowers have four petals pointing upwards and only one directed downwards. The common name pansy is derived from the French pensée (meaning thought). Viola cornuta flowers have a characteristic long, thin, upward pointing nectar spur (which is from where the term 'horned' comes).


Discover more

Geography and distribution

Horned pansy is native to Spain and France, where it occurs in the high Pyrenees. It is widely planted and naturalised from garden escapes elsewhere (although naturalised plants can be hybrids).


Overview: Viola cornuta is a spreading, evergreen perennial (living for several years) growing up to 30 cm tall.

Leaves: The leaves, often present in a basal rosette, are narrowly to broadly egg-shaped. The stipules (leaf-like appendages on the stem where a leaf attaches) are large, free and deeply divided.

Side view of Viola cornuta flower showing long, slender, upward-pointing nectar spur

Flowers: The flowers are produced one to a stem and bloom from June to August. They are pollinated while they are open (unlike many other Viola species, which are self-fertilised without the flowers opening). There are five green sepals. The lightly fragrant flowers are violet in colour, up to 4 cm in diameter and have a long, slender spur. The flowers have five stamens (male parts), each with a triangular projection at the tip.

Fruits: The fruit is an explosive capsule opening by three valves. Seeds often have an oil body and are dispersed by ants.


Horned pansy is widely cultivated as an ornamental. More than 25 cultivars (cultivated varieties of the species Viola cornuta) and hybrids (crosses between species) are available, which exhibit a range of characteristics, with flower colours in shades from white through to yellow and violet. Many cultivars have been created in part from crosses with V. × wittrockiana.

Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage

The seed storage behaviour of Viola cornuta is orthodox (meaning the seeds will survive the drying and freezing process), although there are no collections currently stored in Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank based at Wakehurst in West Sussex.

This species at Kew

Horned pansy can be seen growing in the Rock Garden and the garden behind Kew Palace.

Pressed and dried specimens of Viola cornuta are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers from around the world, by appointment. The details of herbarium specimens of many other species of Viola, including some images, can be seen online in the Herbarium Catalogue.

Kew's Olympic floral spectacular outside the Orangery in 2012.

Kew’s Olympic floral spectacular

From April to September 2012 a floral spectacular will be in bloom in front of the Orangery at Kew Gardens to celebrate the London 2012 Olympic Games. This enormous representation of the Olympic rings can even be admired by air passengers flying over the Gardens.

Cultivars of Viola cornuta make up the majority of the spring bedding for this 50 m display, which includes Viola ‘Light Blue’, Viola ‘Clear Yellow’, Viola ‘Black Delight’, Viola ‘Red Blotch’ and apple mint (Mentha suaveolens).

The five interlacing rings, designed in 1913 by founder of the modern Olympic Games Baron Pierre de Coubertin, represent the coming together of five continents to embrace the Olympic values: striving for excellence, demonstrating respect and celebrating friendship.

References and credits

Cullen, J. et al. (eds) (1997). The European Garden Flora Volume 5. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Fuller, R. (1990). Pansies, Violas and Violettas: the Complete Guide. The Crowood Press Ltd, Wiltshire.

Huxley, A., Griffiths, M. & Levy, M. (eds) (1997). The New Royal Horticultural Society Dictionary of Gardening, Volume 4 (R-Z). Macmillan, London.

Mabberley, D. J. (2008). Mabberley’s Plant-book: a Portable Dictionary of Plants, their Classification and Uses. 3rd edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Saule, M. (2002). La Grande Flore Illustrée des Pyrénées. Rando/Milan.

Tutin, T. G. et al. (eds) (1968). Flora Europaea Volume 2. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Kew Science Editor: Sven Landrein
Copyediting: Emma Tredwell

Although every effort has been taken to ensure that the information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions.

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