(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 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


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 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

hive bee.

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.