Waterleaf family (Hydrophyllaceae)
Description: This native perennial plant is 12½' tall, branching sparingly. The stems are green or reddish green, and glabrous or slightly hairy; when they are present, the hairs are curved or appressed against the stem. The alternate leaves are up to 6" long and 4" across (excluding the petioles). They are pinnately divided into 3-7 deep lobes and their margins are coarsely toothed or shallowly cleft. The lobes of these leaves have acute tips. The upper surface of the earliest leaves in spring has small patches of white that are scattered across the upper surface; these white patches don't develop in later leaves. Each upper stem terminates in 1 or 2 stalks of flowers. These flowering stalks (or peduncles) are quite long and devoid of leaves. Each stalk terminates in a dense cyme of flowers about 2" across; each cyme contains about 8-20 flowers. Each flower is about 1/3" long, consisting of a corolla with 5 lobes, a hairy green calyx with 5 slender teeth, 5 stamens, and a slender white style that is divided at its tip. The corolla is white, pink, or light purple; its oblong lobes spread apart only slightly. The stamens are strongly exerted from the corolla and quite conspicuous; they have hairy white filaments and brownish anthers. The blooming period usually occurs during late spring to early summer and lasts about 1 month; some plants may bloom a little earlier or later than this. Each flower is replaced by a seed capsule that splits open to release the seeds. The root system consists of a tuft of fibrous roots and rhizomes. Occasionally, this plant forms colonies.
Cultivation: The preference is partial sun to light shade, mesic conditions, and a rich loamy soil with decaying leaves.
Range & Habitat: Virginia Waterleaf occurs occasionally in central and northern Illinois, while in southern Illinois it is uncommon or absent (see Distribution Map). Habitats include mesic deciduous woodlands, areas along woodland paths, wooded slopes along rivers, and edges of clearings in wooded areas.
Faunal Associations: The flowers attract bumblebees and other long-tongued bees, which suck nectar primarily. One of these, Nomada hydrophylli (Waterleaf Cuckoo Bee), is an oligolege of Hydrophyllum spp. Halictid bees and Syrphid flies are attracted to the pollen of the flowers, but they are less effective at cross-pollination. The foliage is grazed by White-Tailed Deer to a limited extent.
Photographic Location: Busey Woods in Urbana, Illinois.
Comments: This is probably the most common Hydrophyllum sp. in Illinois. Virginia Waterleaf has attractive flowers and foliage; it blooms a little later than most spring-blooming wildflowers in woodlands. The following characteristics distinguish this species from other Hydrophyllum spp. that occur in the state: 1) There are no curved appendages between the teeth of the calyx, 2) the stems are hairless, or they have lines of hairs that are curved or appressed against the stem, 3) The leaves are pinnately lobed and they are usually a little longer than wide, 4) The lobes of the corolla spread apart only a little, and 5) The lobes of the leaves have acute tips. Other Hydrophyllum spp. have little appendages between the teeth of their calyxes, or they have stems with abundant spreading hairs, or they have palmately lobed leaves that are as wide as they are long, or the lobes of their corollas spread widely apart, or the lobes of their leaves have blunt tips. While this set of distinctions may sound complicated, it is usually easy to identify Virginia Waterleaf in the field.