Sunday, April 24, 2011


Last year, when I visited the Morris Island Conservation Area, I was surprised by all the Hepatica plants. Of course the flowers were long finished, but the leathery mottled leaves were everywhere. The leaves of Hepatica americana are evergreen, but a new crop grows every year after the flowers are finished. Needless to say, I made a mental note to come back in the spring to see the flowers, and today was the day. Easter Sunday today, and the sun shone and it was warm, and I totally enjoyed wandering around under the bare maples looking for different forms of Hepaticas. I really had to watch not to step on them!

They were just opening, not at their peak yet, but I still found quite a few forms and colours. Most were pale blue or white, but I found a lot of medium blue or blue-purples, and a few plants with quite dark rose or rose-purple flowers. I made a mental note of one particularly fine rose-purple and will have to go back later and hope for seeds.

As far as I'm concerned, these are Hepatica americana. The botanists can call them Anemone hepatica, or Hepatica nobilis, if they want, but I'm sticking with the old name. The other species native here, H. acutiloba, seems sufficiently different to me to retain its own name as well. Its leaves have much sharper points, with more definite mottling, and, in my experience, the flowers have quite a different 'look' to them. They usually have 8 or more petals, each one narrower than in H. americana, and the flowers are almost sure to be white or a very very pale blue or pink. It also prefers more shade and blooms a bit later.

Neither is difficult to grow in the garden. A good woodsy soil, sun and moisture in the spring followed by dappled shade for the summer, are all that are needed. If you don't have a deciduous tree or shrub to plant it under, a tall peony or rose will do. Put the Hepatica north of either one, and it will do fine. Hepaticas are very long-lived plants, bloom while the early bulbs brighten the bare garden, and like them, they have the market cornered on charm.

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