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The Annual Carpet Display Of The Flowers Of Hepatica

(Hepatica nobilis var. acuta) now reclassified as Anemone acutiloba, but it will always be Hepatica to me…

Liverleaf, Sharp-lobed hepatica

In April, on a gentle slope, out of the leaf litter along the road where I often walk, comes the annual carpet display of the flowers of Hepatica.  When I see them I know that finally winter is over, done, finito.  Most often the 6 -10 petal bloom is white with a tinge of mauve, purple, blue, or pink. I look for blues, which can be deep shaded, and most lovely in my opinion.

At first glance, it seems the diminutive plants are nothing but hairy stemmed flowers popping up out of old forest litter. But upon close inspection you will find the old leaves of the plant from the previous year that persisted through the winter. Then, along comes the fresh leathery, dark green, mottled, three-lobed leaves of the current year. They look like the human liver (hepar in ancient Greek), hence the common name ‘liverleaf’. Butterflies, moths, bees, flies and beetles are known pollinators and the early blooms of the hepatica are well appreciated by all.

Usually the flowers last about a month to six weeks and then the plants become rather anonymous, blending in with the leaf litter once more. Hardy to zone 4, this garden treasure is native to eastern America and thrives in the dappled light in deciduous woods. My stand of hepatica rarely reaches 7” in height, but I have heard of foot tall plants. Squirrels and chipmunks are greedy for the seeds of these plants. I have suffered skirmishes against their ravaging hoards and have lost to them. Never underestimate a rodent with time on their paws. In response to my inability to find ripe seeds I easily give up. That time of the year is very busy and I usually forget about them.

As I write this I recoil to think that this most important herald of spring for me is so easily forgotten so very quickly forgotten. Is my heart so shallow? This year I will be vigilant about seed collecting! Seeds can be planted fresh in late May. Shallow planted, they should sprout quickly and be transplanted to a woodland area with little competition from larger plants. If there is a good blue, I mark it with a stick so I know where it is. Lift in the fall and gently tease apart leaving at least 3 buds per division. Plant the divisions in high organic matter soil. It is best to plant on a slope as Hepatica is intolerant of water collecting at the base.

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