Description & Overview

Searching for ephemeral wildflowers is one of the highlights of early spring. One of the most delightful early-blooming species is Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Liverwort). Hepatica acutiloba is a lovely, low-lying Wisconsin native perennial with liver-shaped leaves likely to liven up your shady landscape. This wildflower has the common name Liverwort (or Liverleaf) because of the supposed resemblance of the leaves to the human liver, which has three lobes.

Core Characteristics

Category: Perennial

Wisconsin Native: Yes

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 3

Mature Height: 2-6 inches

Mature Spread: 8-12 inches

Growth Rate: Perennial

Growth Form: Low-growing. Upright. Spreading

Light Requirements: Partial Shade to Full Shade

Site Requirements: Organically rich, moist, well-draining soil

Flower: Variable. Blue-purple. Light blue–violet. White

Bloom Period: April–May

Foliage: Medium to dark green

Fall Color: N/A

Urban Approved: No

Fruit Notes: 2-inch-long hairy, oblong achene. Ripens in early summer.

Suggested Uses

In the wild, Sharp-lobed Hepatica is usually found in high-quality open woodlands, among other native plants. Although it generally doesn’t fare too well with competition, you’re unlikely to see it thriving in forests overrun with invasive species like Garlic Mustard, Japanese Barberry, or Buckthorn.

While Sharp-lobed Hepatica isn’t commonly seen in the landscape setting, it’s a fantastic addition to a woodland shade garden. Liverwort can be grown readily in rich soils in shady sites. This plant will look its best when planted in groups or scattered about among the trees. This is generally considered a low-maintenance plant but be mindful that it is best grown where it can remain undisturbed.

Learn more about Wisconsin Native Spring Ephemerals.

Searching for ephemeral wildflowers is one of the highlights of early spring. One of the most delightful early-blooming species is Sharp-lobed Hepatic…
Searching for ephemeral wildflowers is one of the highlights of early spring. One of the most delightful early-blooming species is Sharp-lobed Hepatic…
Searching for ephemeral wildflowers is one of the highlights of early spring. One of the most delightful early-blooming species is Sharp-lobed Hepatic…

Wildlife Value

Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Liverwort) blooms so early that most pollinators like butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds still have yet to arrive locally. Instead, this plant’s nectar-less flowers are primarily pollinated by bees. Carpenter, Sweat bees, and occasionally Mining bees pollinate Liverwort, but they prefer nectar-producing plants that bloom concurrently, such as Trout Lilies. But, come later in spring, if Liverwort is still blooming, it will see other pollinator visitors such as butterflies, moths, flies, and even beetles.

Hepatica can self-pollinate, so these visitors are unnecessary for seed production.

Ants often carry the seeds as they love to gorge themselves on elaiosomes, the fleshy appendage attached to the seed. The elaiosomes are loaded with healthy fats and nutrients, a favorite among many ant species. The ant colonies are generally a good place for seed germination, which further aids the spread and colonization of Hepatica.

Similar to Bloodroot, Hepatica is yet another nyctinastic native, so colder night temperatures might inhibit pollinators from accessing the blooms. Nyctinasty means the opening and closing of flowers or leaves associated with temperature or light intensity changes.

Maintenance Tips

This Hepatica species grows naturally in organically rich shaded woodlands near creek borders and mesic woodlands. If you find Hepatica growing atop a slope in more acidic soil, you are likely looking at its relative, Hepatica americana, the Round-lobed Hepatica. Sharp-lobed Hepatica is more abundant in wet sites, whereas Round-lobed Hepatica may be found more commonly on drier sites. Both species of Hepatica may occur in the same woods and may even hybridize.

Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Liverwort) performs best in shaded sites that are high in organic material, have consistent moisture, and are well-draining. If planted in a landscape, the fallen leaves of trees make the perfect mulch.

Searching for ephemeral wildflowers is one of the highlights of early spring. One of the most delightful early-blooming species is Sharp-lobed Hepatic…
Searching for ephemeral wildflowers is one of the highlights of early spring. One of the most delightful early-blooming species is Sharp-lobed Hepatic…

Pests/Problems

Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Liverwort) is free of major pest or disease problems, although if you are planting it in a landscape setting, keep an eye out for slugs and snails as they love herbaceous perennials.

Leaf Lore

Hepatica is a genus in the Ranunculaceae (Buttercup) family. The specific epithet acutiloba is derived from two Latin words, ‘acutus,’ which means “acute” or “narrow,” and ‘loba,’ which means “lobes” or “lobed.”

Hepatica acutiloba also goes by the common name of “Liverleaf” as the triple-lobed nature of the foliage supposedly resembles a human liver with three lobes.

Several Indigenous peoples, such as the Haudenosaunee, Menominee Cherokee, and Meskwaki, used Sharp-lobed Hepatica for various medicinal purposes but most commonly as an ingredient in a purgatory concoction to treat gastrointestinal issues.

A relative of our native Liverwort, Hepatica nobilis var. japonica, the Japanese Hepatica or Yukiwariso, is a species that has been cultivated in Japanese gardens since the 1800s. Yukiwariso is a coveted ornamental, and the Japanese have developed many double flowering varieties. In the 1800s, the International Hepatica Society was founded. They divided the varying flower forms into nine groups, with our native Hepatica acutiloba belonging to the Hyoujunka group. Hyoujunka is the standard flower with normal developed stamens and pistils, which produces pollen and set seeds.

Companion Plants

Sharp-lobed Hepatica grows well with other native woodland plants such as Wild Geranium, Woodland Phlox, or Canadian Columbine. Hepatica should flower before these plants emerge, and then those plants will cover up Hepatica when it goes dormant.

Other woodland plant companions include Mayapple, Large White Trillium, Jack in the Pulpit, Spring Beauty, Solomon’s Seal, Dutchmen’s Breeches, and Yellow Marsh Marigold.

Searching for ephemeral wildflowers is one of the highlights of early spring. One of the most delightful early-blooming species is Sharp-lobed Hepatic…
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Written by Miles Minter