Underfoot: Sharp-lobed Liverleaf

By: Susan Sprout

Sharp-lobed Liverleaf (Hepatica americana var. acuta), a member of the Buttercup Family, is a native plant of eastern North America, found from Nova Scotia to north Florida. What a treat to find its flower pushing up from small rhizomes on such a hairy stem!

Check out the hairy stem supporting the Liverleaf flower and its green bracts.

Although the colors of its sepals vary from white to blue to pink, they will all have three large green bracts supporting their single blossom on each stem.  Called sepals and not petals for this plant, they can number from six to twenty.

Last year’s three-lobed, evergreen leaves are still around after hiding under the snow we had. Their color has gone a mottled greenish-purple. In fact, people used to think they looked like a human liver, hence the names liverleaf and hepatica.

Leaves of Sharp-lobed Liverleaf

Historically, herbalists who healed according to the Doctrine of Signatures saw the leaves as a divine sign that they were supposed to be used to heal liver diseases. I found Liverleaf blooming in the rich woodlands of Sullivan County. If you go looking for them on a rainy day, they may not be open fully. Don’t confuse them with Spring Beauties whose smooth stem grows from small, rounded tubers and can have as many as 11 flowers on it.

Catch up on past issues of Underfoot!

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