Know Your Natives – Large-Flower Baby-Blue-Eyes

Large-flower baby-blue-eyes (Nemophila phacelioides) of the Borage (Boraginaceae) family, formerly of the Waterleaf (Hydrophyllaceae) family, is a showy native wildflower endemic to the south-central U.S. that has been recorded in only four states; namely Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma.  In Arkansas it is known from throughout the Ouachita Mountains and the southwestern portion of the Ozark Mountains and adjoining Arkansas Valley.  The genus name, from Latin and Greek, translates “woodland loving”.  The specific epithet alludes to the resemblance of the plant and its flowers to species of the related genus Phacelia, for example, hairy phacelia (Phacelia hirsuta).

Large-flower baby-blue-eyes, is found in shady to partially sunny, moist areas of woodlands, thickets and prairies.  It is a short-lived annual with late winter basal leaves and one to several weak stems up to 10 inches long in mid-spring.  Stems, covered with various lengths of soft hairs, may be erect or straggling.  Each stem typically has several branches rising from above leaf axils.  The plant’s color is an overall dull green with purplish coloration near nodes.

Large-flower baby blue eyes - Nemophila phacelioidesPhoto 1:  Late winter and early spring basal leaves.

Basal and cauline leaves are odd-pinnately compound (with an unpaired terminal leaflet).  Leaflets are typically opposite, but those lower on rachis may be alternate.   Orientation of leaflets varies, with the lowest reflexed downward, middle leaflets set at 90 degrees and upper leaflets angled toward leaf apex.  Leaflets are densely hairy with longer hairs at leaf edges (ciliate).  Petioles (leaf stalks) are smooth with a central groove.  Late winter basal leaves have about seven small oval leaflets.

Cauline leaves have up to 13 leaflets, with lower leaflets either sessile or on very short petiolules (leaflet stalks), while upper leaflets are attached by narrow to broad sections of blade tissue.  Lower leaflets are generally broadly elongate while, especially for healthier plants, mid to upper leaflets have two (mitten shape) to three broad angular lobes.  At the upper portion of leaves, bases increasingly combine with each other so that the upper pair of leaflets and the terminal leaflet all seemingly merge into one multi-lobed leaflet.  Lobes of all leaflets are bluntly pointed.

Inflorescences, at mid-spring, occur along and at the end of axillary branches off main stems.  An axillary branch may support just one terminal flower or the stem may have several branches growing from additional leaf axils that also produce inflorescences.  A branch, terminating with flower(s) typically has two leaves, similar to cauline leaves, immediately below the inflorescence.  The inflorescence has the structure of a raceme that is composed of several to a half-dozen bowl-shaped flowers on long weak pedicels (flower stalks).  Pedicels and peduncles have the same color and hairiness as stems.

Large-flower baby blue eyes - Nemophila phacelioidesPhoto 2:  Cauline leaves are more complex than basal leaves.  Flower buds at upper center show ciliate hairs.

Flowers, 1 to 1-1/2 inches wide, have five lobes, five stamens and a pistil.  Lobes are joined about two-thirds down from their broadly rounded and shallowly indented tips.  The unmarked blue to lavender outer portion of the corollas (petals) fades to white at the center.  Whiteness of corolla center along with white filaments highlights prominent dark anthers.  The white pistil is not readily noticeable.  The calyx is composed of five up-pointing, acutely triangular sepals, separated one from another by a prominent space.   Reflexed, broadly linear bracts, located between sepals, are about one-third their size.  Margins of sepals and bracts are ciliate.  Even at the earliest stage of development, flower buds are loosely enveloped by prominent sepals with bracts positioned in the opposite direction.

Large-flower baby blue eyes - Nemophila phacelioidesPhoto 3:  Flowers have a deeply lobed, blue to lavender corolla that fades to a white center.

Large-flower baby blue eyes - Nemophila phacelioidesPhoto 4:  A display of stem, cauline leaves and flowering racemes.

Flowers bloom from the bottom of a raceme to the top.  With pollination, slightly elongate-spherical, green, two-part capsules form, and turn light brown with maturity.  Before summer’s heat, the capsules split open and small rough, brown seeds are released.

Large-flower baby blue eyes - Nemophila phacelioidesPhoto 5:  A display of flower bud, flowers and seed capsules.  Note opposing orientation of sepals and bracts.

Two additional species in the genus are found in Arkansas: the native species “small-flower baby-blue-eyes” (Nemophila aphylla) and “fivespot” (Nemophila maculate), a species introduced from California.  Nemophila aphylla is a much smaller plant with leaves having three to five irregularly shaped lobes and white to pale blue flowers less than ¼ inch wide.  It is native to the southeastern U.S., and in Arkansas is found primarily in the central and southeastern parts of the state.  Nemophila maculata has leaves that are uniformly odd-pinnately lobed but not divided into distinct leaflets.  Flowers of N. maculata are mostly white with purplish veins and prominent blue to purple spots on the apexes of the five corolla lobes (hence the common name).  It is planted as an annual ornamental and occasionally self-seeds and persists or escapes.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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