I hate liver. Hate it, hate it, hate it! Hate the way it looks, hate the way it smells, hate the way it tastes. That’s why it’s so weird that one of my favorite native wildflowers is liverwort.
How is this possible? Well, first you have to separate “liverwort” into two words, “liver” and “wort.” Whenever you see “wort” as the suffix of a plant name, it indicates the plant was used in traditional herbal medicine to treat some ailment — in this case, disorders of the liver. Did it work? I don’t know. All I know is that liverwort doesn’t smell, taste, or look nasty and is one of my favorite heralds of spring.
Native to woodlands of the eastern and central U.S., liverwort (Hepatica americana) is a low-growing, evergreen perennial reaching 6 to 9 inches tall and about 6 inches wide. The handsome leaves are divided into three rounded lobes. In late winter and early spring, clouds of beautiful, dainty flowers rise on slender stalks above the leaves. I’ve read the blooms can be light blue or pink, but mine bloom pure white. A new crop of leaves sprouts after the flowers fade.
Sharplobe hepatica (H. acutiloba) is a close cousin to liverwort and looks quite similar. Its main distinguishing feature is that the lobes of its leaves are pointed.
Liverwort is a well-behaved, carefree little plant that deserves much wider use. It likes partial to full shade and moist, well-drained, acid soil that contains lots of organic matter. I haven’t noticed any pests.
But good luck on trying to find it at garden centers, despite the fact that it’s easy to grow and propagate. In fact, it’s hard to find in mail-order catalogs. Realizing, however, that your addiction to excellent service and information is an unquenchable craving the Grump has purposely cultivated, I have generously uncovered a mail-order source — in Canada. It’s called Fraser’s Thimble Farms, located on lovely SaltSpring Island in the Pacific Northwest, where I once traveled on a biking trip. They ship all over the U.S., so don’t get your shorts in a knot. You’ll find lots of different Hepatica species in their plant lists as well, including some really wild Japanese hybrids with double pink, red, blue, and purple flowers.
So give me liverwort or give me death! Just don’t give me liver.