Hiking on the Ohio & Erie Canal towpath trail around this time of year I often encounter this Spring wildflower of low-lying damp woods, stream terraces and floodplains.
This is a classic northwoods plant, that often look messy, growing in dense clusters of eight to twenty blossoms. This plant grows by both rhizomes (underground stems) and seeds.
This plant’s genus, Hydrophyllum, refers to water; its early season leaves often have a bleached appearance as if they’ve been stained by water.The whitish marks on the leaves fade as Summer progresses and by mid-Summer the plant dies back to the ground and is no longer apparent.
Virginia Waterleaf’s flower color varies from pale pink, to deep purple, to occasionally white. They are small, bell-shaped blossoms borne in clusters with stamens and pistils protruding well out of the flower.
When young and tender, the leaves are good eating. People still gather wild Virginia Waterleaf for food. It’s other common name, John’s cabbage, also speaks to its tasty nature.