Plant Guide > Flowers > Liver Leaf flower

Liver Leaf flower

Liver-leaf; Hepatica; Liverwort; Roundlobed, or Kidney Liver-leaf; Noble Liverwort; Squirrel Cup

(Hepatica Hepatica) Crowfoot family

(H. triloba of Gray)

Flowers - Blue, lavender, purple, pinkish, or white; occasionally, not always, fragrant; 6 to 12 petal-like, colored sepals (not petals, as they appear to be), oval or oblong; numerous stamens, all bearing anthers; pistils numerous; 3 small, sessile leaves, forming an involucre directly under flower, simulate a calyx, for which they might be mistaken. Stems: Spreading from the root, 4 to 6 in. high, a solitary flower or leaf borne at end of each furry stem. Leaves: 3-lobed and rounded, leathery, evergreen; sometimes mottled with, or entirely, reddish purple; spreading on ground, rusty at blooming time, the new leaves appearing after the flowers. Fruit: Usually as many as pistils, dry, 1-seeded, oblong, sharply pointed, never opening.

Preferred Habitat - Woods; light soil on hillsides.

Flowering Season - December-May.

Distribution - Canada to Northern Florida, Manitoba to Iowa and Missouri. Most common East.

Even under the snow itself bravely blooms the delicate hepatica, wrapped in fuzzy furs as if to protect its stems and nodding buds from cold. After the plebeian skunk cabbage, that ought scarcely to be reckoned among true flowers-and William Hamilton Gibson claimed even before it - it is the first blossom to appear. Winter sunshine, warming the hillsides and edges of woods, opens its eyes,
"Blue as the heaven it gazes at,
Startling the loiterer in the naked groves
With unexpected beauty; for the time
Of blossoms and green leaves is yet afar."

"There are many things left for May," says John Burroughs, "but nothing fairer, if as fair, as the first flower, the hepatica. I find I have never admired this little firstling half enough. When at the maturity of its charms, it is certainly the gem of the woods. What an individuality it has! No two clusters alike; all shades and sizes. A solitary blue-purple one, fully expanded and rising over the brown leaves or the green moss, its cluster of minute anthers showing like a group of pale stars on its little firmament, is enough to arrest and hold the dullest eye. Then, there are individual hepaticas, or individual families among them, that are sweet scented. The gift seems as capricious as the gift of genius in families.

You cannot tell which the fragrant ones are till you try them. Sometimes it is the large white ones, sometimes the large purple ones, sometimes the small pink ones. The odor is faint, and recalls that of the sweet violets. A correspondent, who seems to have carefully observed these fragrant hepaticas, writes me that this gift of odor is constant in the same plant; that the plant which bears sweetscented flowers this year will bear them next."

It is not evident that insect aid is necessary to transfer the tiny, hairy spiral ejected from each cell of the antherid, after it has burst from ripeness, to the canal of the flask-shaped organ at whose base the germ-cell is located. Perfect flowers can fertilize themselves. But pollen-feeding flies, and female hive bees which collect it, and the earliest butterflies trifle about the blossoms when the first warm days come. Whether they are rewarded by finding nectar or not is still a mooted question. Possibly the papillae which cover the receptacle secrete nectar, for almost without exception the insect visitors thrust their proboscides down between the spreading filaments as if certain of a sip. None merely feed on the pollen except the flies and the hive bee.

The Sharp-lobed Liver-leaf (Hepatica acuta) differs chiefly from the preceding in having the ends of the lobes of its leaves and the tips of the three leaflets that form its involucre quite sharply pointed. Its range, while perhaps not actually more westerly, appears so, since it is rare in the East, where its cousin is so abundant; and common in the West, where the round-lobed liver-leaf is scarce. It blooms in March and April.

Professor Halsted has noted that this species bears staminate flowers on one plant and pistillate flowers on another; whereas the Hepatica Hepatica usually bears flowers of both sexes above the same root. The blossoms, which close at night to keep warm, and open in the morning, remain on the beautiful plant for a long time to accommodate the bees and flies that, in this case, are essential to the perpetuation of the species.