The name “white-leaf” refers to the silky-white hairiness of the leaves of this phacelia. Dense short hairs lend the plants an overall grayish-green color. The plant grows up to twenty inches tall. Roughly the upper half of the plant consists of branched flowering coiled clusters.

Ballhead waterleaf is somewhat inconspicuous because it usually grows amid thickets or beneath associated shrubs, such as sagebrush, and its dark, blue-purple to lavender, flowers blend in with the shady background. It is unusual because the flowers form a densely congested ball-shaped cluster near the base of the plant instead of at the top.