Phacelia (Miami Mist)

Phacelia purshii
Family

Hydrophyllaceae (waterleafs); sometimes also Boraginaceae (borages)

Description

An annual, delicate, spring-blooming wildflower, much branched with slender stems, spreading. Flowers in loose, somewhat coiled cymes, 5-lobed, the lobes minutely fringed, light blue-violet or white; a large white “eye” with tiny dots (the 5 anthers, plus the small base of the pistil) in the center. Blooms April–June. Leaves to 3 inches long, deeply pinnately lobed, the lobes opposite; lower leaves petioled (with stems), upper leaves sessile. Leaf stems and stems in general with soft hairs.

Similar species: There are 7 species of Phacelia recorded for Missouri. Small-flowered phacelia (P. gilioides) is similar to and more common than Miami mist, but its flowers are toothed, not fringed. Hairy phacelia (P. hirsuta) is similar to small-flowered phacelia but is a stouter and larger plant with hairier stems and leaves; the petal lobes lack fringes or teeth.

Size

Height: 12–18 inches.

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Photo of Miami mist flower cluster and leaves
Phacelia (Miami Mist)

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Photo of a Miami mist wildflower colony
Phacelia (Miami Mist) (Colony)

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Photo of small-flowered phacelia flower cluster
Small-Flowered Phacelia

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Photo of small-flowered phacelia flowers
Small-Flowered Phacelia (Flowers)
Habitat and conservation

Occurs in wooded lowlands, streamsides, moist rights-of-way, and waste places. In some places it is considered an agricultural or garden weed.

image of Phacelia Miami Mist distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

East-central and southeastern Missouri.

Status

Another common name for members of the genus Phacelia is “scorpionweed,” which refers to the coiled flower clusters. As the flowers develop and bloom, the unfolding clusters resemble a scorpion’s tail. This type of flower cluster, called a scorpioid cyme, is common in both the waterleaf family and the related borage family. When you see flowers in a scorpioid cyme, it’s a safe bet you have some type of waterleaf or borage plant.

Human connections

When this delicate wildflower grows in patches, it can look something like mist. The name “Miami mist” doubtless comes from an association of this plant with the Miami people, who lived in the Great Lakes region before most were moved to reservations in Oklahoma.

Ecosystem connections

Phacelias attract a variety of insect pollinators, including bees and butterflies. Other insects eat the leaves. The root systems of the many annual plants that develop in spring help stabilize soils at a time of year when soils are wet and otherwise liable to erosion.