The state flower of Rhode Island is Viola sororia, the common violet. The small blue or purple flowers grow wild in the state as well as many other Eastern states and may be found on roadsides and woodland areas. There are many different species of common violet; sometimes, the flowers may be white rather than blue, and some have stems, while others don't. Though the violet was selected as the state flower of Rhode Island in 1897, it wasn't officially adopted into legislation until 11 March 1968.
In 1897, schoolchildren were given 10 flowers to select from for a vote on which one would make the best state flower. The rose and the pansy were their second and third choices respectively, while the violet was first. The Rhode Island General Assembly didn't officially adopt the flower at that time, though.
It wasn't until a politician and teacher named Francis Sherman got involved that the common violet officially became the state flower of Rhode Island. Sherman introduced a bill in 1967 to make the violet the state flower and the next year it was passed. In the time between the schoolchildren's choice and Sherman's bill passing, Wisconsin, Illinois and New Jersey officially adopted the common violet as their state flower. Rhode Island became the last American state to adopt an official floral emblem.
Since the common violet has so many different species, sometimes there is confusion about a state choosing an exact variety or just the general flower. In the official legislation document when the violet became the state flower of Rhode Island, it's written as being Viola palmata. This species is also known as a wood violet or early blue violet, and it blooms in April to May. Its leaves are multi-sectioned rather than heart-shaped. On 13 March 2001, state Senator Susan Sosnowski presented a bill for the state Senate to change the Viola palmata to the Viola sororia as Rhode Island's official state flower; it passed in July 2001.
Although most common violet species are either blue or purple, rarer types can be white, yellow or even green in color. In some areas, the vibrant flowers are sometimes considered to be weeds, as they often grow on lawns. Birds and rodents often eat violets. This state flower of Rhode Island is also edible for humans, and violet blooms may be coated in sugar and used as colorful, natural cake decorations.