Last year I purchased a liver leaf plant, Hepatica nobilis, for my woodland garden. An evergreen herb, it was used to treat liver ailments in medieval times, though it's no longer used for that purpose. I didn't know much about it, but I liked the fuzzy mottled leaves. The tag said it was a native woodland plant. It was small, about three inches across, and I almost forgot about it as the months passed. It was covered by leaf litter in the fall, then buried a couple of times by light snow falls this winter.
About a week ago I investigated the spot where I had planted it. I lifted off a layer of wet leaves, and to my delight, the liver leaf was flourishing, more than doubled in size. The leathery leaves had acquired a pleasing purplish undertone. I was happy with my liver leaf and went searching local nurseries for some more. It is not so common. I found only a single plant, which I put near the original one. I hope more will be available when plant retailers get in their spring stock.
A few days ago I had an even better surprise. It blooms! And it is a beauty:
Although the small flowers look delicate, it is a tough plant. One of the first to bloom in spring, hepatica flowers can persist up to two months, and they come in shades from pure white to soft pinks to electric blue. Native to the eastern half of the United States, as well as parts of Europe, liver leaf will grow in acid to neutral, humus rich soil. It likes partial shade to shade. The leaves are up to two inches across and shaped with three lobes like a liver (thus its common name). There are a couple of varieties, one with rounded lobes and another with more pointed leaves. The old foliage dies back as fresh new leaves come in after blooming. It's interesting that liver leaf seeds attract ants, which carry them off to new locations, thus helping with propagation.
This is a beautiful plant. Mine is beside a woodland path, so I can enjoy it. A clump of them would look wonderful tucked at the base of a tree or perhaps peeking around a rock. It just needs a press agent to tout its attributes to the world — and I would vote for a new common name!