White Hepatica

White Woodland Hepatica


"Winter garden
the moon thin as a thread
insects singing."

-Matsuo Basho,
1644-1694

   

This little white-flowering liverwort or liverleaf (Hepatica nobilis 'Alba') begins producing flowers in late February before any new leaves are up. Leaves join the blossoms after a couple of weeks, in March.

The blooms as late as June, then the bright green leaves persist through summer, autumn, & most of winter, getting worn & liver-spotty toward winter's end when the leaves should be clipped off to make room for the next cycle of flowers & leaves.

The old leaves should never be prematurely removed. Even if they already appear worn-out in January, wait as long as possible, ideally until either flower buds or tiny new leaves are in evidence, then carefully remove the old leaves. For worn though they appear to be, they are nevertheless busily undertaking photosynthesis during winter, before the deciduous trees regain their leaves & close out the sun. When the canopy of leaves restores shade for the hepaticas, they use their stored energy to bring forth new shiny green trilobed leaves that will not have their burgundy mottling until the following autumn & winter.

'Alba' or White Liverleaf takes the same care & conditions as the regular pale blue hepatica, preferring well-draining soil under a deciduous shrub or tree where it gets direct sun only in the winter.

As a clump it barely exceeds three inches in height, with a very slow spread. The flowers raise to as high as six inches, often shorter.

In both Europe & America the liver-colored mottling in winter is what gave this plant both its scientific name Hepatica, & the unlovely common name of Liver Leaf. This physical resemblance to livers led to a superstitious belief that Hepatica was a useful herb in the treatment of liver disease, about which, see my article Lungwort, Liverleaf & the Doctrine of Signatures.

   



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