1236 Anemone americanaCommon Names: round-lobed hepatica, hepatica, liverleaf Family: Ranunculaceae (buttercup or crowfoot Family)
The little round-lobed hepatica is one of North America’s “spring ephemerals” – forest-floor wildflowers that bloom very early in spring before the canopy of hardwoods above them has leafed out. This hepatica has leaves that are 1-3 in (25-75 mm) long, each with three rounded lobes and a heart shaped base. The leaves are held on slender hairy petioles up to 6 in (15 cm) long emanating from the base of the plant. The leaves are quite showy, all green or two-toned green and usually with purplish undersides. Technically evergreen, hepatica’s leaves can become quite bedraggled by the time new leaves unfurl the following spring. Hepatica produces a single flower on each of several slender peduncles (flower stalks) just before the new leaves emerge in early spring. The flowers open their fullest on sunny days and the plant may bloom for several weeks. White, pale violet or pink, the pretty flowers and are a little less than an inch (25 mm) across. They are cup shaped and do not have true petals, but instead have six or more petal-like sepals. The whole plant is only about 6 in (15 cm) tall and spreads not much wider, but hepatica often forms a spreading colony among the fallen leaves of the forest floor.
Anemone americana can be found growing on the floor of rich, deciduous hardwood forests in eastern North America from Nova Scotia to Manitoba and south to Arkansas and northern Florida.
Light: Hepatica likes partial shade or even heavy shade most of the year but needs more sunlight in early spring. These little woodland plants are at their best under deciduous trees. Moisture: Provide hepatica with a humus-rich, moist soil that does not dry out during growth. They tolerate neutral to alkaline to acidic soils. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 8. Propagation: Propagate hepatica by dividing the root clumps. This is a slow growing little plant and new divisions may take a few years to begin flowering. Seeds may be sown as soon as ripe, and will take even longer to reach the flowering stage.
Hepaticas and other spring ephemerals are among the first flowers to bloom in spring. They are best suited for shady woodland gardens and shady spots in rock gardens. They should be planted in groups and allowed to expand into colorful springtime carpets. If you have an area where deciduous trees dominate, consider establishing several spring ephemerals underneath. You may forget them all summer, but will be delighted at their happy displays in early spring.
The name hepatica derives from the three-lobed leaf shape which someone thought resembled a human liver. Following up on that, extracts and teas of “liverleaf” have been used for various ailments, including especially those of the liver. Native Americans made a tea from hepatica that they used for a variety of ailments.
The spring ephemerals are small woodland plants that are relegated to near total shade under a canopy of deciduous hardwood trees during the summer, but bloom proudly in early spring before the big trees once again intercept the sun. These are perennials that never get large but their numbers can literally carpet the forest floor with colorful abandon. A short list of spring ephemerals of eastern North America includes the wakerobins (Trillium spp.), Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum odoratum), wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), Dutchmen’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), trout lily (Erythronium spp.), Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica), bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), wild ginger (Asarum canadense), and rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides).
Extracts and teas of hepatica reportedly are toxic in large doses.
Steve Christman 2/16/15; updated 11/20/15