Hydrophyllum virginianum

Species Native to Missouri
Common Name: Virginia waterleaf 
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Hydrophyllaceae
Native Range: Eastern North America
Zone: 4 to 8
Height: 1.00 to 2.00 feet
Spread: 1.00 to 2.00 feet
Bloom Time: May to June
Bloom Description: White to lilac
Sun: Part shade
Water: Medium to wet
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Naturalize
Flower: Showy
Tolerate: Wet Soil


Best grown in consistently moist, well-drained soils in a light shady spot. Can grow aggressively in optimum conditions.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Hydrophyllum virginianum, commonly called Virginia waterleaf, is an upright perennial of the waterleaf family that grows to 12-24” tall. It is native to moist to wet woods from Quebec to Manitoba south to Oklahoma, Tennessee and North Carolina. In Missouri, it is typically found in low woods, thickets, ravine bottoms, bluff bases, river flood plains and stream valleys (Steyermark).

Tiny, white to lilac, bell-shaped flowers (1/3” long) bloom from May to June (sometimes with infrequent additional bloom to August) in rounded clusters (terminal cymes to 2” across containing 8-20 flowers) atop long stalks extending from the upper leaf axils beyond the leaves. Flower petals are fused into a tiny bell, with the hairy, white-filamented stamens emerging from and extending well beyond the rim of the bell.

Long-stalked lower leaves (6-10” long) are deeply divided into 5 to 7 sharply and coarsely toothed green leaflets (deep lobes) which are usually mottled with blotches resembling watermarks. Leaflets on the upper leaves are not as deeply cut.

Root tea was once used as an astringent to stop bleeding and for diarrhea and dysentery. Roots have been used as a mild emetic to cause vomiting. Tea or mashed roots were once used to treat cracked lips and mouth sores.

Genus name comes from the Greek words hydor meaning water and phyllon meaning leaf in reference to markings on plant leaves which give the appearance of being water spots.

Specific epithet is in reference to Virginia being part of the native territory for this plant.

Common name of waterleaf is in reference to the whitish leaf spots which resemble water stains.

Additional common names for this plant include John’s cabbage and Shawnee salad, both of which are in reference to the young leaves and shoots which are edible and may be added to salads.


No serious insect or disease problems.


Woodland gardens. Shady areas of the landscape.