Waterleaf family (Hydrophyllaceae)
Description: This biennial plant is 1-2' tall, branching occasionally. The stems are light green, terete, and covered with spreading hairs; these hairs are often glandular. The alternate leaves are simple-pinnate; they are usually divided into 3-5 leaflets (rarely 7). The leaf blades are up to 5" long and 3" across; the petioles of these leaves become shorter as they ascend the stems. The leaflets of each blade are ovate, broadly ovate, oblong, or oblanceolate in shape; they are shallowly to deeply cleft and bluntly dentate along their margins. Often, the terminal leaflets are more deeply cleft than the lateral leaflets. Both leaf blades and petioles are more or less hairy. The upper surfaces of mature blades are medium to dark green; however, the earliest leaf-blades of the year have upper surfaces with silver-grey blotches. The upper stems terminate in racemes of 4-12 flowers; often there are a few secondary racemes that develop from the axils of the upper leaves. Buds and flowers are typically concentrated toward the apex of each raceme, while the developing fruits are located below on spreading pedicels. These pedicels are glandular-hairy and about ½" long. Each flower is about ½" across when it is in bloom; it consists of a 5-lobed corolla, a calyx with 5 sepals, 5 stamens, a slender style, and an ovary. The corolla can vary in color from pale lavender to deep blue-violet. The green sepals are linear-lanceolate and hairy; they become recurved during and after the blooming period. The style of each flower divides into 2 parts toward the middle of its length, while the stamens have finely hairy filaments and brownish anthers. The blooming period occurs during the late spring and lasts about a month. Each flower is replaced by an ovoid seed capsule that divides into 2 parts to release its seeds. This plant reproduces by reseeding itself.
Cultivation: The preference is dappled sunlight to light shade, moist conditions, and a rather rich loam or silt-loam containing organic matter. After the flowering period, more shade from canopy trees is tolerated because this plant dies down. While this plant doesn't grow on rocks like some ferns, it tolerates soil that is somewhat thin and rocky from underlying bedrock if there is enough moisture.
Range & Habitat: The native Forest Phacelia occurs occasionally in the southern half of Illinois, while in the northern half of the state it is rare or absent (see Distribution Map). Habitats include moist areas of deciduous woodlands and rocky woodlands, rocky banks and low areas along woodland streams, moist depressions of bluffs, bottoms of sandstone canyons, and lower slopes of ravines. This wildflower is typically found in various moist areas of rocky woodlands.
Faunal Associations: The nectar and pollen of the flowers attract primarily bees (long-tongued & short-tongued); less common floral visitors include butterflies, skippers, and wasps. The foliage of Phacelia spp. (Phacelias) is eaten by the the oligophagous Scelolyperus wilcoxi (Skeletonizing Leaf Beetle sp.). Information about the edibility of the foliage to mammalian herbivores is unavailable.
Photographic Location: The bottom of a sandstone canyon along a woodland stream at the Portland Arches in west-central Indiana.
Comments: Forest Phacelia is another lovely woodland wildflower in the Waterleaf family. This species and other Phacelia spp. (Phacelias) are closely related to the Hydrophyllum spp. (Waterleaf species), which also occur in woodlands and bloom at about the same time. Among the species in Illinois, the style of a Phacelia is divided toward the middle of its length, while the style of a Waterleaf is divided toward its apex; this is the easiest way to distinguish these two groups of very similar wildflowers. Compared to other Phacelias in Illinois, Forest Phacelia usually has larger flowers (about ½" across, if not more) and the lobes of its corollas are smooth, rather than conspicuously fringed. Some species of Waterleaf are similar to it, but they lack tripartite leaves or the lobes of their corollas are less widely spreading when the flowers are blooming. If all else fails, they can be distinguished by their styles, as described above. Another common of Phacelia bipinnatifida is Loose-Flowered Phacelia.