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Great Water-leaf (Hydrophyllum appendiculatum)

Life history

Species overview

Great Water-leaf (Hydrophyllum appendiculatum), a Wisconsin Special Concern plant, is found in rich, moist woods. Blooming occurs from May through June. The optimal identification period for this species is May through June.

Synonyms: Decemium appendiculatum


  • Distinguishing characteristics: Distinguished from Virginia water-leaf (H. virginianum) by leaves that are palmately lobed (not deeply dissected), stem with both spreading and appressed pubescence, and calyx with tiny appendages between the sepals.
  • Flower characteristics: Small, close clusters of 5-parted lavender flowers borne above leaves; stamens only slightly protruding; calyx with a tiny appendage or tooth between the sepals.
  • Fruit characteristics: Capsule 2-chambered; seeds 1 to 3.
  • Leaf characteristics: Stem leaves palmately 5 to 7 lobed, not deeply dissected, leaflets toothed.


  • Blooming phenology: May through June
  • Fruiting phenology:
  • Optimum time to identify: The optimal identification period for this species is May through June


  • Growth form: Forb-erect
  • Vegetative reproduction:
  • Life cycle: Biennial
  • Comments: Associated Species: Laportea canadensis, Podophyllum peltatum, Scutellaria ovata, Lithospermum latifolium, Arabis shortii, Silene virginica, Cacalia muhlenbergii, Cryptotaenia canadensis, Circaea quadrisulcata, Geranium maculatum, Hydrophyllum virginianum, Jeffersonia diphylla, Hydrastis canadensis, Dirca palustris, Arabis shortii, Ulmus thomasii.

State status

Status and Natural Heritage Inventory documented occurrences in Wisconsin

The table below provides information about the protected status - state and federal - and the rank (S and G Ranks) for Great Water-leaf (Hydrophyllum appendiculatum). See the Working List Key for more information about abbreviations. Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for this species in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database. The map is provided as a general reference of where this species has been found to date and is not meant as a range map.

Documented locations of Hydrophyllum appendiculatum in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusSC
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS3
Global RankG5
Tracked by NHIY

Habitats and landscapes

The Natural Heritage Inventory has developed scores indicating the degree to which each of Wisconsin's rare plant species is associated with a particular natural community or ecological landscape. This information is similar to that found in the Wildlife Action Plan for animals. As this is a work in progress, we welcome your suggestions and feedback.

General habitat information

  • Habitat description: Found in rich, moist woods.
  • Soils: Rich, mesic soils.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Great Water-leaf. Scores for natural community associations are: "significant" association (score=3), "moderate association" (score=2) or the species can be present but is only weakly associated with the community (score=1).

Natural communities score
Floodplain Forest 2
Southern Mesic Forest 3

Ecological landscapes

This table lists the ecological landscape association scores for Great Water-leaf. The scores (3=High, 2=Moderate, 1=Low, 0=None) also correspond to the map.

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Species guidance

The Endangered Resources Program has developed avoidance measures and management guidelines for plants on the Natural Heritage Working List. These are a work in progress, and we welcome your suggestions and feedback. Sources used in developing this information can be found here.

Avoidance measures

These are specific actions designed to avoid "take" (mortality) of this species.

  • Avoid locating landings, staging areas, or access routes on or near known populations.
  • Avoid known individual plant locations and conduct operations elsewhere when they are least likely to cause damage. Ideally, this would involve frozen, snow-covered ground. However, in areas of the state where frozen conditions are unreliable, very dry soils late in the growing season might be the best available alternative. Consult with a biologist, if needed.
  • Avoid broadcast spraying of herbicides; use care with spot spraying.

Management guidance

Management guidelines are additional considerations that may help maintain or enhance habitat for this species

  • Maintain high forest canopy cover; this species requires shaded habitat conditions.
  • Maintain thick duff layer if possible; minimize spread of invasive species including earthworms.


Great Water-leaf Photo.

Photo © Robert H. Read.

Great Water-leaf Photo.

Photo by Ryan O'Connor, Wisconsin DNR.

Great Water-leaf Photo.

Photo by Ryan O'Connor, Wisconsin DNR.

Support for Wisconsin's rare plant information has been provided by the Division of Forestry, the Endangered Resources Fund and the Wisconsin Rare Plant Preservation Fund. To donate, visit the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin [exit DNR].

Last revised: Wednesday, May 05, 2021
Southwest Savanna Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Western Coulees and Ridges Southeast Glacial Plains Central Sand Hills Central Lake Michigan Coastal Central Sand Plains Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northeast Sands Western Prairie North Central Forest Northern Highlands Northwest Lowlands Northwest Sands Northwest Lowlands Superior Coastal Plains Forest Transition