Blue genes: in praise of Hepatica

Now I am going to write about a plant. Honest. In this case a blue-flowering plant. And not delphiniums. (I do know that Delphiniums come in other colors but I ignore them.) I want to talk about a little not-western U.S. wildflower called Hepatica nobilis.  There is  some chaos about the nomenclature of this plant. (It appears to be Hepatica nobilis in Europe and Asia and Hepatica americana here.)

But everyone seems to agree that the first word is Hepatica, which originates from some icky reference to livers, a reference that I personally would prefer to forget, so let’s just think of it as adorable Hepatica, blue (except when it’s pink or white but blue is best) and romantic and maybe (in one school of thought) a kind of anemone, and I have never met an anemone I didn’t like.

YOU may have known all about Hepaticas since you were three, but it was new to me when I received this little plant a couple of years ago as a going-away present from my friend Cindy.  Here is a picture of it today as it emerges from our Pacific Northwest winter.

Hepatica nobilis, Hepatica americana

Hepatica nobilis (or Hepatica americana) in my very garden right this minute.

The flowers come first, and then later come new leaves which are scalloped into three parts a bit like an undivided three leaf clover and not looking in the least like my idea of a liver (okay “Hepatica” does mean something about looking like a liver), not that I have ever seen a liver except fried and sliced.

But in the beginning, when the very first plant lovers and gardeners started talking and then writing forum discussions on stones or in the dirt, someone had the dazzling idea that if a plant, or some part of a plant, looked like something (say, a liver for instance) that meant the plant had the power to have some effect on whatever that thing it looked like was, and maybe heal that thing from something. (Today they say that Hepatica plants are still used in medicine but I wouldn’t bet the rent that they have anything to do with livers.)

Anyway, my friend Cindy is the sort of nurturing person who gives you a going-away present even when she is the one leaving, which is what she did with this plant. Now she is retired up in Puget Sound, just a short and romantic ferry ride from Seattle. (Right this moment Cindy is probably looking out her window at her fabulous view, or working in her glass studio, or planting in her greenhouse, then later maybe having a tall cool one at the biker bar down the road.) But before she left here she brought me that darling Hepatica, and it fits right in with all my wildflowers and woodland gardens.

It is very happy where I grow it, with things like ferns and a leopard lily in morning sun and afternoon bright shade. I love it and its blue-ness so much!  What to do but propagate! I read that I could divide the plant but I just couldn’t do that yet  so I potted its seeds at the first opportunity and behold, the miracle of birth occurred, and I rejoiced.

Hepatica sprout

One tiny little intrepid Hepatica nobilis plant in great big giant three inch pot.

Yes that’s a photo of just one of my five baby Hepaticas (quintuplets),  so so cute. And tiny. And yes this is their second year!  (Their growth, like my hybrid car’s acceleration, might be characterized as leisurely.)  But that is true of so many wonderful wild flowers, including trilliums and other lilies. You have to be patient, but when you are madly in love with a plant, like I am with the sweet Hepatica, it’s easy.

There. Don’t say I never actually write about plants.


About linniew

Unpublished novelist seeks therapy in gardening. Westie assists.
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