The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861

The Other Side of Beekeeping

Hydrophyllaceae – The Waterleaf Family1

- November 1, 2015 - - (excerpt)

The Waterleaf family consists of about 20 genera and 275 species, but these numbers vary a bit with the reference consulted.[2 & 19] In part, this is probably because some species are placed in different families by different authors. The family is common to most of the world except Australia and its members are largely annual or perennial herbs and are only rarely shrubby. They are often bristly, glandular and feel rough to the touch. The stems are round, and the leaves can be placed either alternately or oppositely on their stems. In addition, the plants often have basal rosettes of leaves at ground level. The leaves can be either entire or pinnately lobed2 and are without stipules.3

The flowers have both male and female parts (stamens and pistil), are radially symmetrical4, have 5 petals, and the petals and stamens are attached below the attachment point of the ovary (ovary in superior position). The flowers are grouped in cymes.5 The calyx6 consists of 5 united sepals and the petals are united at least near their base. The overall shape of the flower can be either bell shaped (campanulate) or funnel shaped (funnelform). The five stamens are attached to the petals.

The female part of the flower consists of two united carpels.7 This is often represented by the stigma8 of the pistil being at least cleft suggesting two parts.
The fruit is a many seeded capsule9 from which the seeds are released by the seed capsule splitting open into two parts, each representing one of the two carpels.

The western United States is one of the family’s centers of distribution. Sixteen genera are indigenous to the US. Relatively few are cultivated.[2 & 19]

Virginia waterleaf, Shawnee-salad, Indian-salad, John’s cabbage

Scientific name: Hydrophyllum virginianum

Origin: North America

Plant description: Virginia waterleaf is a perennial that grows to a height of about 3 ft (~91.4 cm) with the stems 30-80 cm (~11.8 to 31.5 in) long. In the upper regions, the flower stems and sepals10 possess appressed or ascending hairs that rarely reach a length of 0.5 mm (~ 0.02 in).

The stem leaves are broadly ovate11 or broadly triangular, 10-20 cm (3.9-7.9 in) long and often somewhat wider and are pinnately divided12 sometimes almost to the midvein, usually with 7-9 segments, but sometimes with as few as 5. The terminal leaflet and the pair of basal leaflets are often 2-3 lobed, all sharply acute or acuminate13, the apex with strongly ascending teeth.

The inflorescence is dense during bloom. The sepals are sparsely hirsute-ciliate (pubescent with short stiff hairs). The corolla is 7 to 10 mm (~ 0.28-0.39 in) and the stamens and style extend beyond the corolla.

The flowers are white to violet, or purple, and are situated in loose cymes.14[6]

Distribution: The species is found in moist wet woods as well as open spaces. For the geographic distribution see map.

Blooming Period: Gleason and Cronquist[6] indicate the species blooms in May and June in its northeastern range. In the Great Plains area Wilken[22] indicates that it blooms May to July. In Illinois, Milum[12] indicates that the genus blooms May to August.

Importance as a honey plant: Oertel[15], from his extensive set of questionnaires over a …