Hepatica nobilis is a charming small plant for the front of the perennial shade garden. It’s one of the first to bloom in the spring in my own garden.
Common name: Liverwort
Hepatica comes from the Greek hepar which means ‘the liver’. There are two meanings here. The first is that the color and shape of the leaves resembles the liver. The second is due to the old herbal Doctrine of Signatures which suggests that if a plant looks like a bodily organ, it will have an effect on that organ.
Hepatica was used as a treatment for liver problems so it was named Liverwort (Liver – the organ and wort ‘plant’.)
- Sun needed: Shade to part shade
- Bloom color: Whites through blues
- Bloom time: Early spring
- Height: 3” to 5”
- Planting space apart: 8”
- Propagation method: Seed or division.
- Hardiness: USDA 4
- Lifespan: 3-5 years
- Soil preferred: Organic soil – well drained. A typical forest floor with good organic matter from leaves.
- Potential disease problems: none serious
- Potential insect problems: slugs
- Use: spring bloomer, shade, dainty cut flower
This is a spring blooming plant for the shade and is considered by many to be one of the best spring bloomers.
The North American forms come in a variety of colors – from blues to pinks and whites but for really interesting garden forms,
it is necessary to spend some serious money and purchase the Japanese forms.
It is one of the earliest bloomers in my shade garden and performs well in a soil that is high in organic matter and moist but well drained.
While there are 10 species in the family, the one of garden note is Hepatica nobilis. You’ll often find the species in nurseries but will have to search specialist nurseries for varieties such as:
- ‘Ada Scott’ a double flowering dark blue. Excellent grower
- ‘Barlowii’ with rounded flowers and sky blue coloring.
- ‘Little Abington’ another double with blue flowers. Hard to find and expensive but you’ll fall in love with those double flowers
- ‘Rosea’ pink flowering single bloom.
- ‘Rubra Plena’ double flowering red. Excellent but difficult to find.
Potions and Poisons
As with any medicinal herb, using this one should be done only be the experienced. It is said that a mild infusion (tea) of this herb acts as a remedy for disorders of the liver and indigestion. It is also said to help coughs, bleeding of the lungs and diseases of the chest. Frequent doses were given at the initial stages of consumption.
Remember that this herb obtained this reputation from the shape of its leaves (Doctrine of Signatures) rather than any scientific evidence.