Hydrophyllaceae (Waterleaf Family)

The numerous Bay Area members of Hydrophyllaceae are herbaceous (not having a woody stem), with the exception of the shrub Eriodictyon californicum (Yerba Santa). The flowers have 5 calyx and corolla lobes, 5 stamens attached to the corolla tube, and a pistel with at least 2 partial divisions. The flowers form in a tightly coiled, one sided cluster.

Hydrophyllaceae is restricted mostly to western North America, and has no bothersome weed-like members. Many make attractive additions to native garderns. A few of the phacelias have stinging hairs, which may give the handler an unpleasant rash. Although usually pleasantly fragrant, a desert species of phacelia gives off one of the foulest odors I have ever encountered in a plant.

On Montara Mountain, we have the representatives:

Eriodictyon californicum - (Yerba Santa)

Phacelia californica - (California Coast Phacelia)

Phacelia malvifolia - (Stinging Phacelia)

Phacelia nemorales - (Bristly Phacelia)

Phacelia ramosissima
var. ramosissima - (Branched Phacelia)



Eriodictyon californicum:
Yerba Santa

Hydrophyllaceae (Waterleaf Family)

Flowers: Light purple/lavender, tubular, one-half inch long; in clusters at tops of stems.

Blooms: April - June.

Leaves: Narrow, leathery, toothed; 4 -6 inches long. Tops of leaves resinous, sticky and shiny, bottoms yellowish and felty. Lower leaves often covered with a black sooty fungus (see below).


Location: Nearly every trail and along roads, at slightly higher elevations (300 ft and up).

Status: Native - Common.

Eriodictyon californicum
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Further description & Comment: 2 -6 ft tall, bushy, although some higher elevations plants get kind of scraggly looking.

Yerba Santa is an excellent herbal decongestant when properly prepared (don't go just chewing it or making tea - if not properly prepared and dosed, it can make you quite sick.) Often used as an ingredient for herbal cold and flu relieving teas.

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Photo above left shows a young plant in flower in San Pedro Valley County Park. Above right, an example of the black coating the leaves develop. According to Jake Sigg of the CNPS Yerba Buena Chapter:

"The coating is a sooty fungus that colonizes the sticky exudation that Yerba Santa protects itself with (from insect predators, presumably) and which gives it that chaparral fragrance. The new leaves of spring don't develop the exudate or the fungus until later in the summer. The usual sight is to see the shiny new leaves above the sooty old leaves; by summer's end they are all sooty.... My supposition is that this is a natural phenomenon and the Yerba Santa probably co-evolved with it - - but that is only an assumption on my part. It seems to coexist comfortably w/the fungus."



Phacelia californica :
California Coast Phacelia

Hydrophyllaceae (Waterleaf Family)

Flowers: Purple-Blue, tiny; in multiple hairy, caterpillar-like coils on top of stem that uncoil as blooms develop.

Blooms: April - June.

Leaves: Three leaflets, with large one at center, dark green to silvery-gray, crinkled and fuzzy.

Fruit/Seeds: ??

Location: Nearly all trails, open areas and rocky places.

Status: Native - Common.

Further description & Comment: 1 - 3 ft tall, many stemmed, growing in clusters.

Phacelia californica
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A fully developed flower head. Note the mutiple uncoiled stems and pronounced stamens.

A patch of phacelia grows on a grassy ridge along Gray Whale Cove Trail in McNee Ranch State Park.


Coast Phacelia blooms start off as a tight green ball of buds.

The stems start to uncoil as the flowers at the end begin to bloom.

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