Hepatica acutiloba. Hepatica triloba Hepatica, liver, referring to the shape of the leaf.
Low, stemless perennial. Native to the open woods of the northern parts of America, Europe, and Asia. Grows in tufts, with many fibrous roots. Abundant in northern Ohio. March, April.
Four to six inches high, downy.
Hairy at first, appearing after the flowers, all from the root, long-petioled, thick, evergreen, three-lobed, reniform.
Blue, lavender, white, pale pink, borne singly on an erect scape; with three involucral leaves a quarter of an inch below the blossoms, looking like a calyx.
Sepals petal-like, five to eight, oblong, obtuse.
Many, with greenish white anthers and abundant pollen.
Many carpels varying in number from six to twenty-four, one-celled, one-ovuled.
Akenes, short-beaked, hairy. Pollinated by bees and flies.
"I, country born and bred, know where to find, Some blooms that make the season suit the mind, An' seem to metch the doubtin' bluebird's notes, - Half vent'rin' liverworts in furry coats."
- "The Biglow Papers," Lowell.
This is the first spring flower that people ordinarily see. The Skunk-Cabbage is indeed earlier, but it is coarse, ill-smelling, and little known, while the Hepatica is delicate, beautiful, and everywhere recognized. The blossoms appear in warm, sheltered places in March and are abundant in sunny ravines and hollows in early April. They precede the new leaves by some weeks, the rusty old ones being obliged to do duty as foliage while the plant is in bloom. The early bloom is due to the fact that the flower-buds are started in the fall and carefully protected, wrapped away from harm at the very centre of the plant. In addition, the dry leaves of autumn sift over and upon the plant and make so fitting a blanket that when the snows come the little creature is housed dry and warm for the winter, ready to answer the call of the sun as soon as the snows melt. The date of its bloom is the date of the melted snow and the first warm drying days and varies as these vary. Stems and bracts and flower-buds are covered with soft, white, silky hairs in order to protect the blossom from too rapid changes of temperature.
Hepatica. Hepatica acutiloba
The flowers vary in color from pale blue to pure white, shading to lavender and soft pink, and the flower-stems come out of the ground in little tufts, one root frequently producing ten to thirty individual blossoms.
This blossom is wonderfully sturdy. It opens at the regulation time, and though afterward the winds blow, the frost comes, or April snow falls thick and fast, it is all one to the little creature, for the tinted sepals then close about the stamens and pistils, the three-leaved involucre enfolds them all, each tiny blossom bows its head to the storm and waits till the clouds roll by. Cradled in the arms of arctic snows for innumerable ages, the plant has acquired a hardiness out of all proportion to its apparent delicacy. The centre of the flower is greenish white. The many stamens have greenish white anthers; they stand around the little green pistils at the centre of the flower. Each pistil holds up a tiny, curved, whitish stigma.
The Hepatica is so adapted to the shade that it will not live in full sunlight. The leaves which have passed the winter under the snow are rich purple beneath and brown and mottled greenish above. The new leaves come forth in the spring before the leaves of the trees create too much shade. In the fall, after the trees are bare, the leaves again become active.
Two species grow side by side in our Northern States, Hepatica triloba, sometimes called the Round-Leaved Hepatica because the leaf-lobes are rounded; and Hepatica acutiloba, because the leaf-lobes are pointed. The first is more abundant in the Eastern States, the second is the prevailing form in Ohio and westward; in other respects the two are one.
The names Hepatica and Liverwort hark back to the age of the simpler and echo the doctrine of signatures. In mediaeval medical practice it was believed that every disease could be cured by some plant; moreover, that this plant was indicated by a real or fancied resemblance between a given part and the organ diseased. As the leaf of the Hepatica is three-lobed it suggested the liver; thence the plant was considered a specific for diseases of that organ.