LIVERLEAF NOBLE LIVERWORT SQUIRREL CUP
(Hepalica Hepatica; H. triloba of Gray) Crowfoot family
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
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
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
"Blue as the heaven it gates 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."
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
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.
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