Sharp Lobed Hepatica
(Hepatica acutiloba or Hepatica nobilis acuta)
A sure sign we’re moving into spring, the flowers of Sharp-lobed Hepatica peek above last year’s leaf litter in early to mid-spring. Each plant produces a cluster of white, pink or blue/lavender flowers on 3-4” long naked, hairy flower stalks. Each flower is about one inch across and includes from 5-11 petals (actually sepals), and many white stamens that surround the central carpel cluster. Individual flowers are short-lived but hepatica typically grows in colonies and flowering within a colony will last two to three weeks. The plant spreads by reseeding but is not overly aggressive.
The name Hepatica, comes from the leaf which is 3-lobed and looks similar to a liver in shape. Although a very early spring bloomer, this plant is not an ephemeral. After blooming, basal leaves emerge in late spring and remain on the plant until the following spring when they die back as new flower stalks extend. The leaf color can be very distinctive with a mottled green/greenish brown pattern. In summer the leaves are more consistently green and form a nice clump. The more pointed tip of each leaf lobe distinguishes this Hepatica from its “cousin” Round-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica americana). Otherwise they are difficult to differentiate. Hepatica grows in better-drained loamy soils with a layer of leaf litter. The new edition of Flora of the Chicago Region describes Hepatica as a common species in “mesic to dry-mesic woodlands mainly on fine-textured loams.”
Hepatica does not offer a nectar reward so flowers are visited for their pollen value. Small bees that collect pollen include honeybees, Halictid bees such as small to medium Green Metallic bees, Andrenid bees and Small Carpenter bees. Andrenid, or Small Miner Bees are native, solitary bees that nest in the soil and are most common in the spring. Some Andrenid bees are specialists on spring blooming wildflowers. Halictid bees have a longer flight season and are important pollinators of smaller prairie wildflowers. Syrphid and other flies eat the pollen of Hepatica.
Illinois Wildflowers describes Hepatica’s basal leaves as somewhat poisonous and not eaten by rabbits or other herbivores to any great extent.
Sharp-lobed Hepatica cannot claim to be a big, showy spring flower, but in its own quiet way it shows off a subtle beauty that would capture the eye when planted next to a woodland path. As an early bloomer, it is an important food source for bees.