Hydrophyllum virginianum (Virginia Waterleaf)

Plant Info
Also known as: Eastern Waterleaf
Family:Boraginaceae (Borage)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, shade; moist woods, floodplains
Bloom season:May - June
Plant height:12 to 30 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FAC MW: FAC NCNE: FAC
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Flower shape: bell Flower shape: tubular Cluster type: round

[photo of flowers]  Flowers are in loose rounded clusters about 2 inches across at the end of a long naked stem. Individual flowers are tubular to bell-shaped, about ½ inch long, with 5 lobes and long protruding hairy stamens with pale yellow tips that turn brown with age. Flower color ranges from pale violet to pinkish to white. There are 5 long narrow sepals with feathery edges under the flower head. One plant has 1 or 2 clusters on a stem, and may have multiple stems.

Leaves and stem: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: lobed Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves]  Leaves are up to 6 inches long and 4 inches wide and deeply divided into 3, 5 or 7 lobes with coarsely toothed edges and sharply pointed tips, and are sometimes slightly hairy. Leaves often have scattered whitish spots on them but they fade with age. The main stem is also occasionally hairy, with the hairs flattened against the stem. The stem is purplish at the leaf nodes.


The common name “waterleaf” presumably comes from the whitish spots on the leaves, that resemble water stains. We came upon a wooded area on private property in Pope County that was completely carpeted with Virginia Waterleaf. The light was low but it was still quite a sight to behold. Hydrophyllum was in the Hydrophyllaceae (Waterleaf) family but this has been merged into Boraginaceae (Borage).

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey and Chisago counties. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Pope, Hennepin and Anoka counties.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Mary - Stearns County
on: 2008-06-09 23:36:21

I saw this plant today (and took a picture of it) in Stearns County by the Mississippi River on a walk there with my grandchildren. Once again you have helped me to identify a wild flower.

Posted by: randy - st. paul
on: 2008-06-18 22:38:47

This grows in the woods by my home in St. Paul. Your pictures are great but we need one with the "water" marks on the leaf which must have given this plant its name.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2009-02-15 16:57:26

I found a picture of those spotted leaves. The spots apparently fade over time so you may only see them early in the season.

Posted by: kathy - stillwater
on: 2009-05-26 18:49:50

many of these are growing in my mother's yard in stillwater on churchill st. they are all lavender and seem to be mixed in with lily of the valley plants. they are growing on the east side of the home.

Posted by: Dawn - Shakopp
on: 2009-06-01 18:40:08

I finally realized this is what I have growing in my moderately wooded back yard. I live in Shakopee. It is a lovely ground cover in late Spring/early Summer. Mine are a violet color.

Posted by: Susan N
on: 2009-06-28 19:42:03

It's also a good plant for bees--I see them in the flowers constantly. And these days, bees need all the help they can get!

Posted by: BJ - Pope County
on: 2010-06-04 17:45:25

I see this growing everywhere in Pope, Stearns, Kandiyohi and lot's of other counties in MN. Always wondered what it was. Now I know! Thank you! Yes, the bee's love this plant and it is rather beautiful in it's own way as are all plants in my opinion. I'm a plant lover! What can I say?

Posted by: Mark - Vista Hills Park, Maplewood, MN
on: 2011-06-04 13:53:08

A single plant growing just into the dirt path heading south from the southwest corner of the park. Spotted leaves and all!

Posted by: Steve - Rural Crow Wing Co north of Brainerd
on: 2011-06-06 14:23:55

I see this ringing my large yard where the heavy woods are. They are lavender and lots of them.

Posted by: Dana - Jordan, Scott County
on: 2012-05-06 13:53:47

We just bought an old house on a creek and are exploring our new flora. These are growing in a carpet along the east side of our garage and along the creek bank.

Posted by: Kathleen - Prior Lake
on: 2012-05-12 12:29:21

I think these are growing like mad in my backyard. They are not blooming yet but the leaves look very similar. I asked a master gardener from the U of M and he thought it was Virginia waterleaf. It is certainly prolific.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2012-05-13 18:19:10

Kathleen, we've seen rather large colonies of Virginia waterleaf in some woods. The difference between it and an invasive species, though, is that this native does not crowd out other plants, but gets along with its neighbors. A carpet of it in a woodland is quite an awesome sight.

Posted by: Sonja - Otter Tail County Dent East Silent Lake
on: 2013-05-19 16:14:11

Just found this yesterday in a bed of "wild" daylilys. It is spreading extensively, but I've not noticed it before. A friend says get rid of it, but the area is contained, so I'll see what it does.

Posted by: Brenda - Scott County, Belle Plaine
on: 2013-06-04 19:22:37

Found this plant along the edge of the ravine in my back yard and in one of my flower gardens. I didn't recognize the plant and just left if so I could see if it produced a flower. I don't know that I'll let it grow in the garden, but, if it wants to it can roam freely in the ravine.

Posted by: Pam - Plymouth
on: 2013-06-09 11:44:52

These beautiful hardy and prolific purple flowering plants with delicate stamens protruding out the top came to live one year in our yard with no help or input from me. They have spread naturally in our heavily shaded garden next to our homemade pond and waterfall. Each year our founder patch which started on its own as a small 1 ft. cluster gets bigger and bigger and now takes up several square feet. I also have a nice mixture of wild white and purple violets living harmoniously with the Waterleaf giving us color nearly all summer. The fragrant flowers with long stamens are a good attractant for bumble bees as I often see one or two buzzing around on sunny days.

Posted by: Teresa - Minnetonka
on: 2013-06-12 12:20:36

I noticed a clump of this mixed in with my hostas last year, I have no idea how it got there ut along with it I have some beautiful plum colored columbine. Does the waterleaf spread by seed?

Posted by: Kathy - Anoka co
on: 2013-06-12 13:15:28

Growing prolifically just East of the Ceniako Trout Pond at the Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park. I've also found some "volunteers" in my garden beds - but have decided not to allow them there. I'd say they're "assertive" if not invasive.

Posted by: Andy - Bloomington
on: 2013-06-19 16:31:23

Spotted a few plants in the understory of a brushy part of a neighbors yard, across from lower penn lake.

Posted by: mathew - edina
on: 2014-05-03 09:28:45

I saw several small plants close to the west bridge over nine mile creek in Bredesen Park

Posted by: Carmen - Little Falls
on: 2014-05-19 17:02:09

I have them all over my yard. A neighbor gave me a plant a few years back because it just showed up in her yard and she's very "structured". I live in town but I have a certified wildlife habitat. I've allowed it to spread since it's edible.

Posted by: Julie - Pine County, Hinckley area; Carlton County, Moose Lake area
on: 2014-05-20 08:55:23

Along the Grindstone near Hinckley, MN and in my backyard in Moose Lake, MN

Posted by: Darlene - St. Paul, in the city in residential areas
on: 2014-05-30 12:00:14

I live in a residential area in St. Paul, and think both the leaves and flowers are beautiful. And bees definitely are attracted to it, which is great! I also have Wild Geraniums and Anemone, but due to its watermarks, I can distinguish Virginia Waterleaf, since all three have similar leaves but no white patches. But I periodically have to cull out all three so they don't choke out any of my other native wildflowers.

Posted by: Becky - Saint Paul, Como Park
on: 2014-06-06 14:02:52

I've got Virginia Waterleaf growing all over the west side of my house this spring. It is beautiful in bloom and the bees love it.

Posted by: Glen - Appleton, mn invading sister-in-laws perennial gardens
on: 2014-07-12 19:30:31

Has become very invasive in flower beds and difficult to eliminate, don't be fooled!

Posted by: Starr - Minneapolis
on: 2015-04-19 11:36:03

I adore the spotted leaves of this plant. It spreads freely without crowding out its neighbors. Personally, I've had no problems with invasions or removal I move them when they pop up in the wrong flowerbed. They make a great mass planting on the side of the house where nothing else will grow due to gravel in the soil. They have roots that can survive is shallow soil.

Posted by: Mary - Minneapolis
on: 2015-05-14 20:28:29

I've always known this plant as a weed and was surprised to find that it is a native Minnesota wildflower. It pops up in every crack, crevice, and corner of my urban garden, crowding out the other flowers. It, along with red columbine and dandelions, was flower that my grandmother had no objection to children picking by the armload. I suppose I'll have to leave some (along with the dandelions and the wild columbine) for the pollinators, now that I've come across its proper identification.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2015-05-15 05:37:32

Mary, many native plants can become a bit aggressive when taken out of their natural habitat. Virginia waterleaf can, too. We have some in our own garden but it is manageable.

Posted by: Dan - Ottertail County near Vergas
on: 2015-05-16 08:01:00

Lots of this plant growing in our woods.

Posted by: Nancy - Bloomington, bordering Minnesota Valley Wildlife Sanctuary
on: 2015-05-24 17:22:28

these plants are spreading voraciously on the ravine next to our property. Do I need to control them?

Posted by: Shannon - Annandale
on: 2015-05-29 15:08:49

I never noticed these in my yard before. They come up on the north side of my house, along with some Wild Columbine and Lilies of the Valley. I was pretty surprised to find out they weren't weeds!

Posted by: Kristi - St. James
on: 2015-06-05 21:04:36

i think this is the plant I found in my fathers back yard. Is there a different address I could send a picture to?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2015-06-06 05:43:42

Kristi, you can post a picture on our Facebook page

Posted by: Craig - Paynesville MN
on: 2015-07-06 09:00:45

This plant is growing in abundance in the wooded area on my property. It makes a beautiful site when the small purple flowers bloom. The color in the understory is awesome!

Posted by: Bill & Scott - Racine County WI
on: 2016-05-26 20:26:17

Ours are pink and the ends of the stamens (whatever those pollen things are called) appear darker than in photos on this site. Thanks for the nice site!

Posted by: Carrie H - Saint Paul
on: 2017-04-17 15:30:38

We have these growing in the front yard of the house we recently moved into. I would put the plant in the "invasive" category as they are spreading like crazy and are difficult to completely remove due to their extensive root system. Any suggestions on how to successfully remove them? Correct me if I have the wrong plant and the water leaf does not spread via roots underground.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2017-04-17 16:09:01

Carrie, yes it spreads as you discovered. Some people find that desirable, others not so much.

Posted by: Linda - Spring Lake Park
on: 2017-04-20 00:15:54

At Spring Lake Park, just north of the Schaar's Bluff visitor center: Virginia waterleaf carpets the open woods on the bluff trail along the Mississippi River, then it switches to masses of Dutchman's breeches with patches of bloodroot. Go now to see Dutchman's breeches in bloom and later for V. waterleaf.

Posted by: L. Dale - Webster in Rice county
on: 2017-04-23 12:45:08

Nice patch in wooded area on the edge of our property.

Posted by: Sue - Belle Creek Twp, Goodhue County
on: 2017-05-07 12:53:29

I have these growing in large patches in my woods. Thanks for the help in identification.

Posted by: Kathleen S - Minneapolis
on: 2017-05-12 18:46:54

These have appeared along the spillway between Lake Herriot and Minnehaha Creek. Glad to know they are a native.

Posted by: Beatriz - Eden Prairie
on: 2017-05-22 13:13:21

They are growing in the south side of my property and spreading quickly, including my neighbor's yard. I'm planning to keep a few there and transplant some to my wooded front yard. Hope it takes there. I've seen the watermarks other years but not today.

Posted by: Tammy - Rochester
on: 2017-05-24 15:11:51

Have these growing in our back yard next to the deck. Didn't know what they were when we moved in. Glad to see that they are native and good for the bees. Everything else in the yard is not very bee friendly so hoping to help it to spread this year.

Posted by: Katie - Mound
on: 2017-05-26 18:52:06

We have several of these growing in our backyard. It appears they were once strategically placed within borders in addition to some hostas and ferns. They've since spread. I like the cute little flowers :-)

Posted by: Janet - Atwater
on: 2017-05-27 20:09:20

We live in a wooded area next to a lake. We have hundreds of these plants. Pretty. We don't mind them spreading, as we are trying to keep this area natural. These are much preferred over other invasives.

Posted by: jacques - Rochester
on: 2017-05-29 07:53:45

Growing in a mass along our driveway together with Lillies of the Valley on the North side of neighbor's house in a former dog run. Our honey bees definitely are attracted to them.

Posted by: Dave B - Brown County - Lake Hanska
on: 2017-05-31 10:50:26

Grows abundantly underneath Oak and Ironwood trees nearest the lake shore. Currently flowering - making a beautiful thick carpet of foliage and flowers.

Posted by: Katrina F - Northfield
on: 2017-06-01 17:23:01

These popped up this spring along the deep ravine and my 20-foot natural waterfall behind my home in rural Northfield. Lovely! So beautiful in my woods!

Posted by: Nan J - Castle Rock MN
on: 2017-08-30 15:08:35

It is beautiful as long as it stays in a woodland area. I found it growing in my small rock gardens and perrenial flower gardens on the West and South Sides of our yard choking out other perrenial flowers. It is very difficult to pull out as it grows from rhizome root system. Any ideas on how to control it?

Posted by: Leo S - South Minneapolis
on: 2018-05-06 12:39:59

They showed up in our garden a couple years ago Antares spreading like crazy. We dig them out to manage them but too prolific to eliminate.

Posted by: Janene R - Fillmore County, Root River Bike Trail near Isinours
on: 2018-05-27 12:14:04

These have just started blooming here along the Root River Bike Trail.

Posted by: Jean Siirila - Rollag, MN (Western MN Steam Threshers Reunion)
on: 2018-05-29 13:50:19

They in the Pioneer Village area.

Posted by: Renee - Roseville
on: 2018-06-01 17:58:10

These have found there way into my yard and I loved the leaves with the dappled white and then the lilac colored flowers appeared--the honeybees and bumblebees adore them and so do I. I'm glad they're a native flower. I'll let them spread in my yard.

Posted by: Diane - Kensington,mn
on: 2018-06-04 10:02:05

We just had our bloom the 3th. of June. One month late Last year it bloomed May 3th. Our whole grove is loaded. Beaiuful! We also have creeping Charlie. Lots of it.

Posted by: Andrea Carter - Minneapolis
on: 2019-01-28 10:21:20

Found growing wild under my lilac bush in my Mpls yard two summers ago. Pulled back the violets growing next to it. The waterleaf is spreading and flowered for the first time last summer. Looking forward to more flowers this summer!

Posted by: Michelle Lee-Reid - Minneapolis
on: 2019-05-07 21:51:00

It is taking over my city yard! I keep digging it up, but it is everywhere! How do you control it?

Posted by: Janene Roessler - Fillmore County
on: 2019-06-04 06:18:07

Virginia Waterleaf in abundance along the Root River Bike Trail near Isinours and The Old Barn.

Posted by: Deb - Minneapolis, Bryn Mawr neighborhood
on: 2019-06-09 16:49:23

I've lived here for 30 years and this just showed up in my shady backyard that contains mostly perennials I've planted. I didn't know what it was at first, but posted photos on NextDoor and one neighbor knew it. I like it and it's in a terraced area where I'm happy to have it - at least so far. I've also noticed there's a lot of it in the woods of Wirth Park (which is just 1.5 blocks from my house). I like it better than the creeping bellflower that I've been struggling with for years!

Posted by: Robin - NW St Paul
on: 2019-07-18 16:57:46

HV was a too-strong competitor in my spring ephemeral garden, 25 years ago. Now I sort of live with it, not being a very interventionist person. This year (July) however it has suffered a heavy dieback (viral?) of all parts of the plant, and has not succeeded in flowering.

Posted by: Kathy & Doug Wood - Stearns county north of sartell in woods along the Mississip
on: 2020-02-13 02:27:59

Grows abundantly in our woods.

Posted by: Charity Brenke - LE CENTER
on: 2020-05-10 12:19:38

Appeared in my back yard.

Posted by: Susan Jahn - Kandiyohi County, Sunburg
on: 2020-05-15 01:07:48

I noticed purple blossoms on my Virgina waterleaf plants today. They are prolific in wooded areas on my farm.

Posted by: Erin Lind - Coon Rapids
on: 2020-05-22 18:42:43

Pulled a ton of garlic mustard in my wooded back yard and this popped up in its place.

Posted by: Cynthia M Shirk - Mankato
on: 2020-05-26 01:42:42

I found some blue waterleaf growing in the ravine behind our house. They're very pretty.

Posted by: Helen Helgeson - Watertown, Mn
on: 2020-05-28 21:38:59

All over my son's yard (huge double lot). It doesn't care if it's in the sun or shade!! Taking over all the other plants. The blooms are very pretty lavender, but they don't want it taking over the other plants. We've been pulling it but it seems to come right back. How do we stop it??

Posted by: Ron Johannsen - Trenton Lake So. Central Mn.
on: 2020-05-30 15:35:46

Many blooming now with the jack-in-pulpits

Posted by: pat piepho - coon rapids
on: 2020-06-02 17:33:49

We have this plant in our small woods. we have more of it this year probably because of enough rain. We have other natives that we grow in our garden. We have another plant this year I think is sweet cicely. The bees like both plants and they can grow where they are now. We also have bellflower which isn't native.

Posted by: Elizabeth Young - Montrose
on: 2021-04-30 09:50:00

In a strip of wooded area near railroad tracks

Posted by: Susan Cassidy - Lake Harriet Rose Garden Area
on: 2021-05-23 14:34:55

We found clumps of these growing along the sidewalks near the Lake Harriet Rose Garden.

Posted by: Teddie Potter - St. Paul along Easts River Road
on: 2021-05-23 16:54:42

This little plant can be found throughout the woods along the river as well as shady parts of lawns in this area. There is a lot of natural moisture in this area.

Posted by: Susan - In my mpls backyard, uninvited but very welcome.
on: 2021-05-24 19:31:48

It's growing in very deep shade.

Posted by: Randy - Rum River Central Co Park
on: 2021-05-27 13:34:56

We found the flower beside the paved hiking trail next to the wood area. May 26th 2021 We did know the flower but posted on Facebook North shore vibe one of the people recognized it.

Posted by: Mary - Wolsfeld Woods, Orono
on: 2021-05-29 21:35:21

Blooming right now in Wolsfeld Woods - Orono (part of the original "Big Woods") I took pictures of it May 28, 2021

Posted by: Alicyn - Spring Valley
on: 2021-05-31 11:17:11

Found along fence line in deep shade. Bumble bees seem to love this plant.

Posted by: Gayle - Westbrook
on: 2021-06-04 13:08:10

Growing in my backyard, in deep shade. Just a couple of plants that have been there for a number of years. Thanks to this website, I finally know what they are called. I have seen bees on mine too.

Posted by: Ann Marie Maciej - Annandale
on: 2022-05-12 16:33:08

We are planting a small wet prairie. I was planning to transplant some water leaf from the woods to that area. Will it actually compete with the tall plants like Joe pye or Qoeen of the prairie or just grow under them?

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2022-05-12 17:10:16

Ann Marie, Virginia waterleaf isn't likely to crowd out the taller plants, but plants can do strange things in cultivation.

Posted by: Kathy Wilde - Milaca
on: 2022-06-07 08:34:28

We have a beautiful blanket of these in our woods next to our home. We set our squirrel and bird feeders amongst the flowers and it is such a delicate, tranquil scene out of our livingroom window. I have also seen them down the road close to the Rum River.

Posted by: Kathy Wilde - Milaca
on: 2022-06-07 09:56:17

We have a beautiful blanket of these in our woods next to our home. We set our squirrel and bird feeders amongst the flowers and it is such a delicate, tranquil scene out of our livingroom window. I have also seen them down the road close to the Rum River.

Posted by: Terry O'Brien - East side of Lake Mille Lacs, lakeside road
on: 2022-06-17 22:26:13

Succeeded a large blanket of trout lilies

Posted by: Melissa - I've Grove Heights
on: 2023-05-18 17:04:05

I found this plant blooming in my front border, no idea how it got there. I thought maybe it was a weed so I searched a pic of it and found Virginia waterless. I've also found some in my border back near my pond, not sure how I got them?? A seed or root in some other perennial I bought?

Posted by: Eren - Saint Anthony Park
on: 2024-03-20 21:18:32

When I moved to Saint Paul my backyard was absolutely carpeted with these. Sadly, I thought they were non-native and took insufficient care to protect them from invading buckthorn and burdock. I have spent years fighting the invasive species in my backyard and I hope that the remaining areas of virginia waterleaf become re-established. But first I will have to go to war with the creeping bellflower that has replaced all of the burdock

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