« The Underworld of Hellebores | Main | A Stylish Award For Someone Who Wears Baggy Pants »

A Special Wildflower

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!

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (27)

Be still my heart - nobilis is right! I think that might even grow in forbidding CT - lovely shots!

February 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCyndy

Deb, your hepatica was a surprise flowering in such a pretty blue. I too would be looking for more. Maybe the ants will give you a hand.

February 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

Liver leaf is such an awful name for such a pretty little thing! The structured blue flowers are charming, and I can picture a sweep of them covering ground in earliest spring. Very nice!

February 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaurrie

Deb, I grow Hepatica americana and acutiloba and had not focused on this little beauty. I must admit though, I really have a hard time getting them to thrive and I have tried them in many different spots. Usuallly I would have given up by now, but I really love hepatica. Carolyn

What a beautiful little wildflower! It sounds perfect for my woodland garden. I will have to keep an eye out at my local nursery to see if I can get my hands on some. Thank you!

February 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKarin/Southern Meadows

this is one of my favorite wildflowers that I have in a special spot in my garden..when mine first bloomed I was so entranced by the flower and fuzzy stem...and then those mottled leaves...it is just gorgeous on all levels...let me know if you need help finding them.. I have found them online from great growers...

February 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

A very special flower indeed and one I would certainly want in my garden. That blue is so divine especially contrasted with the leaves. I think I would call it Spring Sapphire because it's such a gem.

February 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaura @ PatioPatch

Very pretty. I have some shade under a japanese maple and these would be perfect tucked underneath.

February 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChris

What a glorious colour Deb. You must be so glad that you investigated when you did :)

February 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnna

I don't know much about this plant, but yours looks beautiful. Lets hope they seed and spread to make a big clump by your path. Christina

February 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

Dear Deborah, I have built up my collection of Hepatica over the years, all grown in terracotta pans in the Alpine House as I do not have the woodland condition that they love and, that clearly you can provide. They are quite rare but are, as you say, tough little plants and extremely attractive. Blue, white, purple, red and doubles...they are all there but are difficult to acquire!

February 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEdith Hope

Deb this is a lovely little plant thanks for sharing, I like Laura's name for it spring sapphire because it is a most beautiful gem, Frances

February 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterIsland Threads

Hepatica flowers are special indeed, along with Crocus and Iris they are my favourite early spring flowers

February 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMark and Gaz

Blue trilobite? For the three lobed leaves, and those blue flowers are covetable!

February 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElephant's Eye

Hi Deb,

Lovely photos!

A gorgeous little flower, I've never heard of it before and have to wonder whether we can get them over here :D

A very nice surprise indeed, and this is what spring is all about! You never know what will surprise you from one day to the next.

February 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLiz

I've never even heard of this plant. Learn something new every day!

February 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJess

Beautiful plant-I'm definitely adding this one to my woodland garden also. I think the Liver Leaf will look nice next to my Lungwort! I agree that many plants would get more attention with different names!!

February 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Hepatica! My favourite flower. I must say that yours look much better than mine. Beautiful pictures!

February 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDenise

I saw incredible species and cultivars of Hepaticas when I once visited the Elizabeth Miller Garden in Seattle. I'll never forget their delicate beauty!

February 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlice Joyce

OK, that's it - a couple of other bloggers have posted about Hepaticas, now I really do just have to have some. I love the intense colour of yours.

February 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJanet/Plantaliscious

It is a beautiful plant. I was not familiar with it.

February 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPhillip

So beautiful! I'm going to add that Hepatica to my garden one day; I think it's one of the loveliness of wildflowers..

February 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSweetbay

Deb - I wonder how it would do in the Midwest (perhaps a lot of soil amendments, since we have so much clay)? It is absolutely charming and just calls out for more attention! Thanks for sharing such a find! :)

February 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterShyrlene

Hi Deb - thanks for visiting my blog yesterday. As far as password protecting Mostly Shade, the thought of keeping two blogs going this spring and summer is too much, so I have not deleted Mostly Shade, but I don't plan new content for it right now. It is still there if I decide to get it going again. I have added your blog to my reader, so I will be able to easily see your new posts.

February 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJeff

Deb, Thanks for introducing me to a plant that I wasn't acquainted with. It's beautiful AND cold-hardy! Hmm. Something else to add to my almost endless list of plant possibilities.

February 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJean

What a beautiful shade of blue!! I wonder if it grows in dry shade.... I don't know much about this plant so thank for this post! I now have a new plant to reserch and dream about. :o)

February 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCasa Mariposa

What a darling jewel your hepatica is Deb! I agree about the common name. I had some planted in the woods along a stream/spring but the deer I guess enjoyed it as a snack! Mine was more subtle than yours. I love the foliage and color of your variety. Lovely!

February 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCarol

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>