Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Smallflower Phacelia - Phacelia dubia   (L.) Trelease
Members of Hydrophyllaceae:
Members of Phacelia with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 6 » Order Solanales » Family Hydrophyllaceae
Author(L.) Trelease
DistributionScattered over most of the Mountains and Piedmont, with many small holes in the range; in the Coastal Plain mainly at scattered places in the northern half. See Taxonomic Comments.

This is an Eastern species ranging from PA south to southern GA and LA.
AbundanceUncommon to infrequent in the Mountains. Rare to uncommon in the Piedmont and northwestern Coastal Plain, but very rare to absent in most of the Coastal Plain. Though it has a spotty range, where it occurs it can be found in large colonies of thousands of plants.
HabitatThis is a species of rich and high pH soil, but it favors full sun or partial shade and often occurs in disturbed habitats. It is frequently found along roadsides and clearings in bottomlands, along the margins of moist woods -- mainly on flat or gently sloping ground. It can occur in moist meadows and fields, powerline clearings, and other man-altered sites, but almost always where the soils are somewhat rich. It does not occur in dry soils, such as in mafic glades and barrens.
PhenologyBlooms in April and May, and fruits in June.
IdentificationThis is a small and weak herb, unbranched or branched from the base, reaching only about 6-9 inches tall, often leaning. It does have a few basal leaves, which are strongly divided into about 5 segments, though only about 1-inch long. The few alternate stem leaves are smaller but of the same structure and shape, usually cut into 3-9 lobes, but each leaf is barely 3/4-inch long. From the tops of the branches grow a few flowers in each cyme, on a moderate pedicel. Each flower is a pale blue to white in color, with five rounded petals but with a spread of only 1/2-inch across. The petals in this species are not fringed but are entire on the margins. P. maculata is somewhat similar, but this is a very rare species in NC, found only at two sites in Cleveland County (in floodplain openings); it has flowers medium blue and is a more erect species with no branches from the base. P. purshii and P. fimbriata are pale-flowered but have fringed petals. For some reason, P. dubia is oddly spotty in its range in NC, not easy to find, even when in seemingly suitable high pH soil. But, where it does occur, it can appear like a non-native roadside weed, growing by the hundreds or thousands in mowed rights-of-ways.
Taxonomic CommentsThere are several varieties of the species, though Weakley (2018) notes that only the nominate one -- var. dubia -- is present in the state. In 2021, Foster Levy and co-authors published a paper (Journal of Torrey Bot. Soc. 148: 266-284) describing P. dubia var. rionensis from granitic flatrocks and roadsides from northern SC. Botanists in the Charlotte region of adjacent NC should search for this new variety.

Other Common Name(s)Appalachian Phacelia
State RankS3
Global RankG5
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B.A. SorrieMesic roadside, Grassy Island Road on E side Pee Dee River. 3 Apr 2016. RichmondPhoto_natural
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