Hepatica nobilis

Hepatica (hepatica,  liverleaf, or liverwort) is a genus of herbaceous perennials in the buttercup family, native to central and northern Europe, Asia and eastern North America. Some botanists include Hepatica within a wider interpretation of Anemone.


Hepatica nobilis


Scientific classification















  • Name also: Common Hepatica, Liverleaf, Liver Leaf, Liverwort
  • Family: Buttercup Family – Ranunculaceae
  • Growing form: Perennial herb. Rootstock erect, thick, short, dark brown.
  • Height: 10–15 cm (4–6 in.). Stems 1–7, hairy.
  • Flower: Perianth regular (actinomorphic), blue–bluish violet–purplish red (sometimes white, red or flecked), 15–35 mm (0.6–1.4 in.) wide. Tepals 6–7, outer surface lower part hairy. 3 sepal-like bracts below tepals. Stamens many, white–light red. Gynoecium separate, with many pistils. Flowers solitary, terminating scape.
  • Leaves: Basal leaves 3–5, long-stalked, stalk hairy, overwintering, new leaves developing after flowering. Blade wider than long, cordate-based, 3-lobed, with entire margins, leathery, lower surface hairy underneath and often reddish, upper surface dark green, sometimes with light spots.
  • Fruit: Hairy, short-tipped, 4–5 mm (0.16–0.2 in.) long achene, often together. Infructescence nodding when ripe.
  • Habitat: Young and dry broad-leaved forests and grove-like forests. Also ornamental and an escape from cultivation in parks and yards.
  • Flowering time: April–May.

Hepatica is one of the first plants to flower in the spring. The first flowers bring colour to the forest floor in April already, although most plants bloom in May. Hepatica is hardy and not scared of night frost, and even an extended winter doesn’t cause any irreparable damage. Sometimes it is inspired to flower in the autumn too, and if the weather is favourable even in the middle of winter: flowering individuals have even been observed in January and February. Hepatica varies with regards to its colour and leaf form. Red and white flowers are not so rare and white-spotted leaves are quite common, but forms with layered petals and twice-lobed leaves are rare.

Before there were garden and flower shops, hepatica was a sought-after item in the market. Many of the plant’s current stands were originally transplants as people brought them into their yards and gardens as ornamentals. Hepatica is not able to vegetatively expand its area and digging a bunch can decimate the species in the wild: it has clearly dwindled in recent years in its favoured habitats. In the wild the species only spreads through its seeds, which are transported by ants. In its long lifetime it can produce up to ten thousand seeds.

Long ago, especially at the time when the Doctrine of Signs prevailed, hepatica was used medicinally. According to the doctrine the appearance of the plant could be used to discern which organ, body part or fluid the plant was able to treat – hepatica’s leaves are three-parted, just like a liver, and the underside of the leaves is the same colour as raw liver. It was therefore used to treat liver and kidney problems and to arrest bleeding – nowadays however it is identified as a poison. Hepatica is Häme’s provincial flower.





Hepatica cultivation has been popular in Japan since the 18th century (mid-Edo period), where flowers with doubled petals and a range of colour patterns have been developed.


Noted for its tolerance of alkaline limestone-derived soils, Hepatica may grow in a wide range of conditions; it can be found either in deeply shaded deciduous (especially beech) woodland and scrub or grassland in full sun. Hepatica will also grow in both sandy and clay-rich substrates, being associated with limestone. Moist soil and winter snowfall is a requirement; Hepatica is tolerant of winter snow cover, but less so of dry frost.



Propagation is done by seeds or by dividing vigorous clumps in spring. However, seedlings take several years to reach bloom size, and divided plants are slow to thicken.



Hepatica is named from its leaves, which, like the human liver (Greek hepar), have three lobes. It was once used as a medicinal herb. Owing to the doctrine of signatures, the plant was once thought to be an effective treatment for liver disorders. Although poisonous in large doses, the leaves and flowers may be used as an astringent, as a demulcent for slow-healing injuries, and as a diuretic.





Hepatica nobilis flowers


Hepatica in Europos Parkas, Lithuania

The known hepatica species can be divided into two series with respect to the leaf shape. The leaves of the series Triloba Ulbr. Tamura: are three-lobed with an smooth leaf edge. The series Angulosa (Ulbr.) Tamura are three- to five-lobed and leaf margin is mostly serrated. Between one and ten species of Hepatica are recognised, with some of the taxa more often treated as varieties:


Properties and Uses: This little plant has enjoyed an almost fabulous reputation, in some sections, for the treatment of coughs, phthisis, spitting of blood, liver complaints, etc. It is a mild article, slightly tonic and astringent, with a fair portion of demulcent property, and is of some use in the maladies named; but I am satisfied that its action is extremely mild, and that it has been quite over-praised. A decoction of two ounces in a quart of water, reduced to a pint, may be drank freely. It is usually combined with other pectoral tonics in the form of sirup.


Hepatica transsylvanica


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