Thursday, June 6, 2013

Native Species Profile - Virginia Waterleaf

"I brake for wildflowers."  That's a bumpersticker that I need.  I know people that brake for birds - our local Audubon chapter is full of those people.  They even had special window clings made for their vehicles to use during their Christmas and Spring bird counts.  I don't brake for birds.  Okay, I occasionally brake for birds (and turtles, and snakes, etc., etc.), but mostly I brake for wildflowers.

I brake for wildflowers, and sometimes take a longer route on my travels just to search for said wildflowers.  Other times the finding of those wildflowers is incidental - I am doing something else, but seeing a wildflower along the side of the road, I slam on my brakes.  Sometimes I don't decide to hit the brakes soon enough and then have to back up 20, 30, or more yards to get back to the wildflowers that caused the braking to begin with.

Earlier this week I took a detour on the way home to take a few photographs at Forest Hill Nature Area.  After leaving Forest Hill, I was driving through a low wooded area when a blur of pink caught my eye.  The brain went "Wild Geraniums!".  The foot came off the accelerator and stomped on the brake.  The right hand shifted the truck into reverse.  I did make sure that there was no one behind me while doing all of this.

When I hopped out of the truck I did find the expected Wild Geraniums (Geranium maculatum), but better yet there was a good sized population of Virginia Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum) mixed in with the Geraniums.

Virginia Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum)

Virginia Waterleaf is a relatively low growing perennial wildflower of damp deciduous woodlands.  It typically grows to a height of about one foot, but some list it as being up to three feet tall.  It is found throughout the northern two-thirds of the Eastern United States (extending north into Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec), from the Atlantic Coast in the east, to a line extending from far-eastern North Dakota to Oklahoma in the west.

Finding Virginia Waterleaf is relatively exciting for me, because despite its wide range across the continent its populations in Mid-Michigan are spotty and widely scattered.  Of all the places that I frequent for wildflowers I only have one (now two) locations where I know I can find it.

The leaves of the Virginia Waterleaf are deeply lobed into five parts.  The individual lobes may be either toothed or further lobed.  The leaves often have a faint whitish mark on them (like a waterstain) that gives them the name Waterleaf.

Virginia Waterleaf - note the deeply lobed 5-part leaf.  Yes, that is Poison Ivy in the lower left of the picture.

The Virginia Waterleaf blooms between May and August.  The flowers on the Virginia Waterleaf are white to violet colored.  The flowers raise above the leaves on a long stem that terminates in cluster (cyme) of blooms.  Each flower had five short petals.  The stamen on each flower extend greatly past the petals.  Total length of each flower is approximately 1/2 inch.  The flower sepals and stems are often covered with long white "hairs".  Where found, the Virginia Waterleaf is an important nectar source for bumblebees and other native bees.

A small native bee deep in a Virgina Waterleaf flower (just to left of center)

Virginia Waterleaf surrounded by Virginia Creeper

Basic Information

Virginia Waterleaf 
Hydrophyllum virginianum

Height:  1-3’ tall

Habitat:  damp deciduous woodlands

Flower Color:  white, pale violet

Bloom Time:  May – August


  1. I loved this article. I too Brake for wild flowers. My other half, who is a birder, is always amazed (but not exactly thrilled) by how I find flowers while I am driving.


    1. Donna,

      I'm glad that you enjoyed this post (and hope that you keep checking for more post on wildflowers). I think the furthest that I have ever traveled just to look for wildflowers was 1 1/2 hours from home. Fortunately my wife is very tolerant of my wildflower forays and usually wants to tag along, especially if there is the possibility of finding salamanders at the same time.