Silver-leaf phacelia is a perennial with a taproot and one to several prostrate to more or less erect stems from 50-100 cm high. Variety compacta tends to be more prostrate and often less than 15 cm high. The stems and leaves are covered with fine, short, silvery hairs. Any bristles that may be present are mostly ascending or appressed except in the inflorescence. The leaves are simple with prominent pinnate venation and the margins are usually entire, although some leaves may have a pair of small lateral lobes at the base of the blade. The basal leaves are numerous and tufted and narrowly to broadly elliptic in shape tapering to long petioles. The stem leaves are reduced in size and become sessile on the upper stems.
The inflorescence is usually short and compact, although it may occasionally be longer and thinner. The corolla is 4-7 mm long and wide and is a dull white color. The filaments are conspicuously longer than the corolla lobes.
var. alpina: Stems prostrate or ascending only at their tips. Leaves generally all entire. Herbage is greener than silvery. Flowers a light lavender to dull purple color. Plants of mountains in the Great Basin and northward to Montana, central Idaho and northeastern Oregon.
var. compacta: Stems generally prostrate an not over 15 cm tall. Leaves typically with a pair of lateral lobes. Flowers mostly whitish. Dwarf alpine and subalpine plants from the Cascades of Washington south to the Sierra Nevada and east in mountainous areas across eastern Washington to Idaho and central and southern Nevada.
var. hastata: Stems ascending to erect, generally over 15 cm high. Plants of the foothills and lower elevations. Herbage silvery. Leaves with a pair of small lateral lobes at their base. Often found in sandy soils along the Columbia River north to Kittitas County, Washington and south to Deschutes and Grant counties in Oregon.
var. leptosepala: Stems ascending or erect, generally from 15-50 cm high with greenish, bristly herbage. The larger leaves typically have a pair of lateral lobes. The flowers are whitish. Found at moderate leaves in the mountains from southern British Columbia south through central Washington to northeastern Oregon and east to northern Idaho and northwestern Montana.
var. leucophylla: Stems ascending to erect, generally over 15 cm high. Plants of the foothills and lower eleavtions. Herbage silvery. Leaves all entire or with a pair of small lateral lobes. Widespread variety across much of the Pacific Northwest to the east of the Cascades and Sierra Nevada except where variety hastata is found.
Silver-leaf phacelia may be found in dry rocky to sandy locations at alpine or subalpine elevations.
Silver-leaf phacelia may be found from southern British Columbia east to Alberta and south to California, Colorado, and western Nebraska. Variety compacta may be found in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada from Washington south to California and east on high peaks to central and southern Nevada.