Hepatica americana (DC.) Ker Gawl.

Round-Lobed Hepatica

Hepatica americana plant

Family - Ranunculaceae

Habit - Rhizomatous perennial forb.


Stems - Scapose, 5-15 cm long, unbranched, usually densely hairy.

Hepatica_americana_basal.jpgStem bases.

Leaves - Basal leaves 2-13, usually darkened to maroon or dark purple at flowering, sometimes absent, densely long-pilose beneath when young but becoming glabrate with age, the blades 3-lobed for 30-50% of their length, the lobes 18-31 mm wide, rounded at the tip, the margins entire.


Hepatica_americana_leaf1.jpgLeaf adaxial.

Hepatica_americana_leaf2.jpgLeaf abaxial.

Inflorescence - Flowers solitary on stems, each subtended by 3 involucral bracts, these sessile, elliptic to ovate, rounded or broadly and bluntly pointed at the tip, densely hairy, the margins entire.



Flowers - Actinomorphic, perfect. Sepals petaloid, usually 5 or 6, 7-13 mm long, white, pink, or pale blue, deciduous. Petals absent. Head of fruits 4-6 mm long, 7-10 mm in diameter, hemispherical.


Hepatica_americana_styles.jpgStamens and styles.

Fruits - Achenes, elliptic in outline, sparsely to moderately pubescent with straight hairs not concealing the surface, the beak 0.5-1.0 mm long, brittle and often broken off. Receptacle not enlarged at fruiting.

Flowering - February - April.

Habitat - Forests, bluffs, rock outcrops, often on acidic substrate.

Origin - Native to the U.S.

Lookalikes - H. acutiloba

Other info. - This is one of the most delicate and beautiful of the springtime ephemeral wildflowers. In Missouri it is found within a well-defined cluster in the Ozarks. That range extends into Arkansas but is otherwise disjunct from other populations found in the continental U.S. These form a crescent beginning in Minnesota, extending into the northeastern U.S. and Canada, and down into Alabama.

The plant is easily recognized by its leaves and delicate flowers. The striking blue flowers are easily seen against the spring forest floor, and have a characteristic appearance due to the 3-parted bracts directly behind the "petals." The flower "petals" are actually sepals (petals are not present in this species), and are easily dislodged from the flower. The sepal color ranges from mid-blue, though pastel shades of blue or pink, to white. Multiple color variants and subtle shading (often difficult to accurately capture photographically) can usually be found within the same population. In Missouri, a very similar and somewhat more widely distributed species is H. acutiloba, which is distinguished by its pointed (rather than broadly rounded) leaf lobes.

This species would make an excellent rock garden subject if the proper growing conditions were present. H. americana was used widely by natives and colonists to treat a variety of ailments. It was used most commonly as a leaf tea to treat liver disorders. This was thought to work because the plants leaves are shaped much like the human liver. This practice of treating organ ailments with the plants that most resembled them is known as the "doctrine of signatures." The practice originated in China and, fortunately, is no longer used.

Synonyms for this species are Hepatica nobilis var. obtusa (Pursh) Steyerm., and Anemone americana (DC.) H. Hara.

Photographs taken at Shaw Nature Reserve, Franklin County, MO, 4-1-2014, Poison Hollow, Howell County, MO, 5-14-2019, and Carman Springs Natural Area, Howell County, MO, 5-14-2019 (SRTurner).