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
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!

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