CROWFOOT FAMILY - Ranunculaceae: Liver-leaf; Hepatica; Liverwort; Round-lobed, or Kidney Liver-leaf; Noble Liverwort; Squirrel Cup

Hepatica triloba (H. Hepatica)

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 sweet-scented flowers this year will bear them next."

Pollen-feeding flies and female hive bees frequent these blossoms on the first warm days. Whether or not they are rewarded by finding nectar is still a mooted question. They seem to do so.


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