The well-developed flower beds of the Liverworts can hardly await the final thaw and the first warm rain to start them as pace-makers in Nature's annual spring race for first honours. They are probably the earliest of our spring flowers, earlier even than the Bloodroot, and if we except the cold, stiff and unattractive Skunk Cabbage, the beautiful Hepaticas invariably lead them all. The buds must necessarily have many favourable conditions to cause their early appearance. The leaves of the passing year do not wither and dry up like those of most wild flowers. Instead, they survive the winter, and who will deny the reasoning that they contribute no small part toward the early appearance of the flowers. The evergreen leaves offer shelter from the frosts and assist in accumulating a blanket of fallen leaves and similar litter, until they are covered by the snow and made triply snug and secure for the winter. Again in the spring these leaves are first to catch the warm rays of the sun, and the ground about them is first to become freed from the frost crystals and to arouse their roots to activity. It is interesting at this point to compare the appearance of the flowering buds of the Hepaticas with those of the Bloodroot. The flowers of the former rise direct from their fibrous roots, and the bud and stem are thickly covered with very fine fuzzy hairs, which have been likened unto a fur overcoat, intended to protect them from the cold, while the stem and bud of the latter, flowering somewhat later, are perfectly smooth and appear carefully folded in a leafy cape, which is forced up from a thick, juicy rootstock, purposely to protect it from the chilly spring air.
HEPATICA. Hepatica triloba.
The blossom of the Hepatica has no petals. Its six to twelve delicate, coloured, oblong sepals may easily be mistaken for them as they are closely supported by three small, oval, hairy, reddish-green leaflets which, at the same time, might be mistaken for the calyx. Solitary flowers are borne on slender, hairy stems, some three to five inches in height. They are less than an inch broad, and exhale a delicate fragrance, although the odour is by no means constant. The blossom closes at night. The numerous greenish pistils and yellowish, hair - like anther - bearing stamens, are prettily clustered in the centre. The general colour of the blossoms varies from blue, lavender and pink, to white, and they are found blossoming in scattered groups during March, April and May. The old leaves are broader than long, heart-shaped with three distinct lobes, and spring direct from the root on slen der, hairy stems. The tough, rounded, purple-stained stems are grooved on one side. The old leaves spread upon the ground, and the new ones which immediately follow the buds form pretty, thick, rounded tufts. They are thick and leathery, and the older ones are usually strongly tinged with purple. In the fall, the following season's sprout may be found at the base of the tuft, in a fuzzy casing. During my winter rambles I often find their evergreen tufts associated with those of the beautiful Christmas Ferns. The Hepaticas grow in scattered patches in rich, loose soil, along the rocky hillsides of open woodland, where it is partly shaded. The leaves were formerly used as a remedy for torpid livers, and this custom is still said to be practised among the country people in Tennessee. Hepatica is from the Greek, meaning liver-like, and alludes to the shape of the leaves. This species grows perennially from Nova Scotia to Florida, and west to Manitoba, Iowa and Missouri. Its flowering period extends from December to May, according to its location.