In Bloom: Hepatica

In Bloom: Hepatica

Hepatica acutiloba. Anne Holmes, artist

By Suzanne Wodek

The first spring ephemeral to bloom, Hepatica acutiloba (sharp-lobed) is a delightful sight after a long winter. It can be identified by its mottled leaves, which turn a crimson color in the fall. These leaves should be left undisturbed during the winter. The plant forms a low clump of leathery leaves divided into three lobes. Small, cup-shaped, daisy-like blooms appear, ranging in color from pale pink or lavender to white.

Another native variety of this plant is Hepatica nobilis obtusa (round-lobed), which has a very similar appearance, except that the lobes of its leaves are rounded.

Blooms last for nearly the entire spring season. This plant prefers a shady, rich, moist soil that is well drained; it can contain some rocky material, including pieces of limestone. We are learning that leaving a thin layer of decaying leaves builds soil, and provides food and shelter for wildlife and a winter habitat for many beneficial insects.

Propagation is brought about with seeds or by dividing vigorous clumps in spring. However, seedlings take several years to reach bloom size, and divided plants are slow to thicken. Once established, Hepatica is a long-lived plant.

Small bees collect pollen from the flowers, while syrphid flies, or hoverflies, and other flies feed on the pollen. Bee visitors include honeybees, small carpenter bees, andrenid (mining) bees and halictid (sweat) bees. The flowers do not provide nectar. Chipmunks reportedly eat the seeds. The brownish-green basal leaves are poisonous. In my research, I have found it unlikely that mammalian herbivores eat them to any significant extent.

Upcoming Events at the Botanical Gardens

BearWise – Saturday, March 28, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Ashley Hobbs of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission will discuss the natural history of bears in WNC and how one can use that information to safely coexist with these NC treasures. A question-and-answer session will follow the presentation. Among the topics covered will be the new BearWise Initiative, which provides ways to prevent conflicts, resources to resolve problems and encouragement in the community to keep bears wild, and the next phase of the North Carolina Urban/Suburban Bear Study. Hobbs is an assistant black bear and furbearer biologist for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. This is a free program. Please call 828-252-5190 to register.

Annual Spring Wildflower Walk – Sunday, April 5, 9:30–11:30 a.m.
UNCA Biology Department professor David Clark is regarded as one of the premier botanists of South American floras. He has discovered dozens of new plant species while leading more than 20 rainforest plant-collecting expeditions sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution and the National Geographic Society. His research interests include the flora of the Southern Appalachians. Clark possesses an unpretentious wit and an infectious style in sharing his vast knowledge of plants. Join him for an informative walk enjoying spring wildflowers in the Gardens, rain or shine.
Educational programs are $15 for members and $20 for non-members. Participants must pre-register and pre-pay for classes by calling 828.252.5190.

The Botanical Gardens, located at 151 W.T. Weaver Boulevard, is a nonprofit organization housing a collection of plants native to the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated and memberships are encouraged. Check AshevilleBotanicalGardens.org for a variety of education programs. The Visitors Center & Gift Shop is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in March.

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