Ballhead Waterleaf
Hydrophyllum capitatum Dougl. ex Benth.
Family: Hydrophyllaceae, Waterleaf
Genus: Hydrophyllum
Other names: cat's-breeches
Nomenclature: capitatum = head like (flower cluster)
Nativity / Invasiveness: Montana native plant
Edible plant
No medicinal data

General: perennial, 10-40 cm tall, loosely stiff- or partly flat-stiff-hairy. Stems solitary or few, delicately attached to the rather deep-seated and very short rhizome from which the cluster of fleshy, fibrous roots descends.

Leaves: mainly basal, few and relatively large, long-stalked, some of them attached below the ground, the blade sometimes 10 cm wide and nearly 15 cm long, pinnately divided into 7-11 stalkless leaflets, the upper joined, the lower ones separate. Leaflets somewhat pointed to more often blunt, with rounded, entire edges, or commonly some of them with one or two large, slightly forward-pointing, entire-edged side lobes.

Flowers: several in dense, coiled heads well below the leaves, the main stalks short, seldom any of them over 5 cm long, often bent back in fruit. The 5 calyx lobes with long, stiff hairs. Corolla 5-9 mm long, white to more often lavender or purplish blue. The 5 stamens long, anthers 0.6-1.3 mm long. April-July.

Fruits: capsules with 1-3 seeds.


In thickets, woodlands, and moist, open slopes, from the foothills and valleys to well up in the mountains, in w. and c. parts of MT. Also from s. B.C. and Alberta to c. CA, CO.
Edible Uses

Young waterleaf shoots and leaves, collected before the flowers appeared, were used by native peoples and settlers as a cooked vegetable. They are best boiled in 1-2 changes of water and served with vinegar. Some tribes boiled or steamed the large and fleshy roots of ballhead waterleaf with the bulbs of yellow glacier lily.

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