Spring is just around the corner, and to help us start dreaming about spring, this month’s Plant of the Month is one of the earliest native flowers to bloom in my garden – Hepatica acutiloba – the Sharp Lobed Hepatica. This tough little perennial stays alive all winter, waiting for the first warm weather, and will often produce flowers before the snow is gone.
As usual, the Plant Description and In the Garden sections are courtesy of Shaun Booth from In Our Nature. Shaun is also the co-author of our new book The Gardener’s Guide to Native Plants of the Southern Great Lakes Region. The book is now available to preorder from booksellers and should be on bookshelves by March 1, 2024. The Plant of the Month articles are adapted from the book.
Common Name: Sharp Lobed Hepatica
Scientific Name: Hepatica acutiloba
Family: Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family)
Alternate Common Names: Liverleaf, Mountain Hepatica
Plant Description: Sharp Lobed Hepatica is a low, stemless plant with three-lobed basal leaves. Leaves reach 7 cm long and wide on hairy stalks that reach up to 15 cm long. Each lobe is egg shaped with a pointy tip that distinguishes it from Round Lobed Hepatica (Hepatica americana). A solitary flower is borne at the end of each hairy, leafless flower stalk. Flowers contain five to 12 petals, measure up to 3 cm across, and are backed by three hairy bracts. The flower stalks emerge before new leaf growth.
In the Garden: Sharp Lobed Hepatica is among the first flowers to bloom in the spring, often flowering before the trees above have leafed out. Best planted in big clumps to add a delicate, cheerful statement to a shade garden. It’s slow to establish, but it will quickly become one of the plants you most look forward to in the spring.
Skill Level: Beginner
Exposure: Full shade to part shade
Soil Type: Well-drained, semi-rich calcareous soil with a neutral pH
Moisture: Moist to medium
Height: 15 cm
Spread: 10–15 cm
Bloom Period: Apr, May
Colour: White (pink, purple)
Fragrant (Y/N): N
Showy Fruit (Y/N): N
Cut Flower (Y/N): N
Pests: No serious insect or disease problems
Natural Habitat: Rich deciduous or mixed woods, often in calcareous soils
Wildlife Value: Early pollen source for native bees
Butterfly Larva Host Plant For: None
Moth Larva Host Plant For: None
USDA Hardiness Zones: 3–9
Propagation: Seeds should be sown immediately or stored moist (damp sphagnum moss works well), as they will not tolerate drying out. If starting indoors, they will benefit from 30 days of cold, moist stratification. Plants will not bloom until three years old or more. Plants may be divided in the fall, but it is important to make sure you do not break the leaves off as they are needed to keep this evergreen plant alive through the winter. Plant so the leaf buds are just at the soil surface, then mulch lightly. Divisions, however, are slow to increase. When dividing a clump, it is best to leave two to three buds in each division.
Additional Info: Deer and rabbit resistant; it will tolerate somewhat dry conditions, but too much sun will damage the leaf edges.