Scientific name:Hydrophyllum capitatum
Facts: Ballhead Waterleaf, usually referred to around here as just "Waterleaf," is a fairly common early spring flower, found from British Columbia and Alberta, to California to Colorado.
It likes to grow in damp soil, often on roadside banks in fairly open areas in at least partial sun.
In the Blue Mountains it can be found from the lowest elevations to nearly timberline, and is already blooming at the lower elevations in the valleys.
There are other plants that look much like this one, but they are not as small.
The plants are about four to six inches high. The leaves are attached at the base of the plant, and are somewhat oval and fan-shaped, with several large, deeply-cleft lobes.
The flowers are in tight round clusters about an inch across. These clusters are often hard to spot unless you are looking closely, as they are down almost on the ground, and often hidden by the leaves.
Some Northwest tribes are reported to have eaten the roots of this plant, though I am not familiar with how it may have been prepared.
Where to find: Walk along a road or trail and look for it in open areas of sloping banks that are somewhat exposed. Once you have seen a couple of plants and have a clear idea what the leaves look like, you will be able to spot them from a slow-moving car.
For those wanting to learn more about wildflowers, consider contacting the Native Plant Society of Oregon, which has spring and summer field trips open to the public, and meetings in the winter.
There are chapters in La Grande and Pendleton. For information, contact Dick Kenton or Kent Coe in La Grande, and Jerry Baker in Athena or myself in Pendleton.
Beginning this week, Bruce Barnes' weekly column on wildflowers of the Blue Mountains returns. His column will run the duration of the growing season.