White-leafed Phacelia

Almost every reference to white-leafed phacelia (Phacelia hastata) calls it one of the most variable and least attractive of the many species in the genus Phacelia. Variable, yes – the size can range from a couple inches in height to over three feet while the flower color can range between white and shades of blue, depending on the habitat. Least attractive? I do not think white-leafed phacelia is that ugly.

A member of the waterleaf family, white-leafed phacelia is also commonly called silverleaf phacelia and silverleaf scorpionweed. It can be found in dry, rocky regions throughout the Western United States, British Columbia and Alberta. The habitat of this native, perennial includes high plains, sagebrush steppes, talus in grasslands and otherwise sparsely vegetated areas.

Several branched stems ascend from white-leafed phacelia’s taproot and woody base. The alternate leaves are lancelike and strongly veined with the upper leaves being smaller than the basal leaves. Large numbers of fine, silky white hairs cover the leaves making the plant look unusually hairy or silvery.

The white to lavender or blue tinted flowers have five petals united into a bell shape. The flowers are congested into several coiled clusters near the stem tips. The five stamens of white-leafed phacelia stick out beyond the petals and give the flower cluster a fuzzy appearance.

The fruit is a two-chambered capsule with several seeds per chamber.

Native bees appreciate white-leafed phacelia for its nectar.

The genus name, Phacelia, comes from the Greek “phakelos” meaning “a fasicle” (plant parts bunched or clumped together) and refers to the clustered flowers.

These phacelia plants were growing in a field in the McArthur Swamp (Shasta County CA).

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