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Spring Ephemerals of Ohio: Hepatica.

May 2, 2015

Sharp-Lobed Hepatica

Round-Lobed Hepatica

This post is part of a continuing series of the spring ephemeral wildflowers of Ohio- here’s previous posts:

Spring Beauty

Virginia Bluebells

Bloodroot

Purple Cress

Spring Ephemerals are woodland wildflowers that bloom for a relatively brief time in early to mid spring before trees get fully leaved.  They take advantage of the sunny conditions while they can, and fade away once the leafy canopy is fully developed (making less solar energy available to them).  These wildflowers are encouraging signs of nature’s bounty stirring beneath the surface of winter’s old leaf litter.

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Another Ohio spring ephemeral flower is Hepatica.  This flower is often one of the earliest ephemerals to be seen in the woods, its thin hairy stem breaking through the leaf litter with a light purple flower at the end- though white and pink are other colors that may be seen.

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Often seen in clusters, this flower is also known as Leafwort, due to the shape of its basal leaves.  Back before modern science, the Doctrine of Signatures held that something that resembled a part of the body could be used as medicine for that body part when something went wrong.

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Note the three-lobed basal leaf to the right of the above flower.  Thus the name Leafwort, which would be used for various liver ailments- it was poisonous in large doses though.  As a matter of fact, the above species is Round-Lobed Hepatica due to the leaves being rounded.  There are also Sharp-Lobed Hepatica, with pointed leaves.

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The flowers are truly beautiful, the greenish center standing out against the purple petals.  Many insects visit this plant.  There are 6 petals per flower, which is a member of the Buttercup Family.

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The overall impression of this flower is happiness to see it- wiry hairy stems pushing up the single flower towards the warming sun.  A grand sight in March for certain!

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With the leaves coming out on the trees in May, these spring ephemerals will gradually decline as less sun is available for them.  But they will be here next spring to cheer us after another long winter.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. May 3, 2015 5:41 am

    Delicate and lovely! I sometimes find similar flowers on my Australian walks and wonder how they manage to survive the rough treatment of walkers and creatures. Somehow they do though. Lovely detail on your pics.

    • May 3, 2015 9:06 am

      They do seem quite delicate, coming up through last autumn’s leaves like that.

      Many thanks, Jane!

  2. May 3, 2015 7:21 pm

    Such delicate little beauties.

  3. May 4, 2015 7:25 am

    Okay, now I want to go on a walk through the woods…

  4. May 17, 2015 12:47 pm

    Thanks for the introduction to Hepatica, whose connection to the liver I recognized from the Latin name. Leafwort is another one of those traditional plant names containing wort, which is closely related etymologically to the word root.

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