Notes on Hepatica acutiloba

Anemone acutiloba (DC.) Laws (Flora of N. America)

April begins here with a joke, weather wise – we are expecting snow! Thus, it is a good moment to gather and publish my notes on Hepatica acutiloba (Sharp-lobed hepatica) before it gets busy.The seeds are also starting to germinate, so it cannot be too long till flowering begins.

Hepatica acutiloba is easily distinguished from the only other N American species, H. americana, by having the leaf lobes acute or acuminate, with the middle lobe 70-90% of total blade length; involucral bracts +/- acute (FNA). Sometimes when the lobes are acute it’s a bit more difficult to distinguish it; when in doubt, see the footnote about how to measure the leaves (1).

It is usually found in deciduous beech-maple forests (oaks & other species possible), on rich soils; rarely in mixed deciduous and coniferous forests. In comparison to H. americana, it tolerates wet situations better. Therefore for cultivation it is a better choice if someone really wants to grow a Hepatica in a slightly moist location.

The new foliage can be reddish- bronze when emerging, but not always; villous in various degrees (with long, soft hairs). I would grow this species even if just for the foliage, which besides the flowers, constitutes its most notable ornamental quality.

A while ago there were 5 recognized forms for H. acutiloba (2). From a taxonomic point of view they are obsolete nowadays, but I think from an ornamental point of view they are important and could be used in breeding since the progeny resulted from seed propagation is uniform. Therefore, starting this year, seeds will be offered marked as such (provided that we’ll manage to  get some…).

The regular form of Hepatica acutiloba is blue flowered (H. acutiloba fo. acutiloba).

Hepatica acutiloba blue flowered

Hepatica acutiloba blue flowers

However, it seems though that at least in Southwestern Ontario, the white flowered form is predominant.

Hepatica acutiloba fo. albiflora Ralph Hoffm. – has large white flowers and is usually quite vigorous in habit. Notice in the second image how large the involucral bracts are – they seem to be green ‘flowers’. This is the form that we offered seeds in previous years.

Hepatica acutiloba fo. rosea Ralph Hoffm. – has pink flowers in various shades, and the leaves can exhibit very nice veined markings.

I don’t know if specimens with pink blushed flowers should be included in fo. rosea but I like them very much. Some are light-pink, others have white flowers with just a dab of pink mixed in. Probably an acquired taste…

Hepatica acutiloba fo. diversiloba Raymond – leaves with 5-7 lobes instead of the usual 3, hence the name. The character is not always consistent and often on the same plant both 3-lobed and 5-7-lobed leaves are present. Young seedlings may not display the character for 1-2 years.

Until now I only saw this form having white flowers. The leaves can also develop beautiful veined markings. In the first image of a cultivated plant, the foliage is interestingly marbled instead of having marked veins.

The last form is Hepatica acutiloba fo. plena Fernald; I know it is somewhere out there in the woods, quietly waiting to be found…

About  fragrance

I read about this for the first time in the excellent article published in AGS Journal (vol. 83 No.3) by Michael Meyers; he writes “some plants have a strong fragrance”. I don’t know how come I have never noticed any fragrance, but I will be more on a ‘sniffing’ mode from now on.

About the intermediate forms between H. americana and H. acutiloba

It is not very often that they are found growing together, but when they are, things became complicated. Quote from Flora of Michigan: “When the two hepaticas do grow together, intermediate leaf shapes are only rarely found, although what they mean has not been fully investigated”.

I only agree with the last part; it hasn’t been investigated and hybrids are not recognized at the moment. As for the statement “intermediate leaf shapes are only rarely found” – well, anyone spending more time in the woods would disagree with it.

I will return with Notes on Hepatica americana and also few specimens with very interesting leaf forms. What do they mean…? It also hasn’t been investigated, yet… ;)


 (1) For the ID of H. acutiloba using measurements of the leaves follow this guideline:  “Proportions given in the key for the middle lobe of the leaf are calculated by measuring the lobe (from the apex to a line connecting the bases of the sinuses on each side) and the total length of the blade (apex to the summit of the unexpanded petiole). In the case of ambiguous measurements, check more than one leaf on a plant” – Flora of Michigan.

 (2) Tropicos – see references for the publications of the H. acutiloba forms.

Hepatica acutiloba - leaf measuring

Typical leaves of Hepatica acutiloba



6 replies
  1. Amy Olmsted
    Amy Olmsted says:

    I am so looking forward to seeing those cheery flowers! Do you have any advice on growing them from seed? I have sown them in the past and also this year and I am still waiting on them to show themselves.

    • diversifolius
      diversifolius says:

      Any time now; I have few in pots that started flowering in the garage unfortunately – mild winter is not a good thing here!
      I really have nothing new to say about seeds – collect and sow right away/keep outside/water as necessary OR collect/keep in slightly moist vermiculite (peat)/try to follow the outdoor variations in temperatures/sow anytime.
      Mine are starting to germinate right now.

      It is possible, like with other species with immature embryos at the time of collecting, that if the temperatures were not favorable for the embryos to develop in the first year (i.e. too cold/too warm) they will germinate in the second spring.

  2. mrsdaffodil
    mrsdaffodil says:

    Fascinating post. These flowers are so beautiful and delicate looking, especially coming up through dried leaves. Are you still having snow? Ontario is so funny, as it doesn’t have much of a spring, does it? Just winter, winter, winter and then, one day, summer! I only know from living in Toronto for awhile–perhaps it’s different where you are?

    • diversifolius
      diversifolius says:

      At the moment no, but we are supposed to get fresh snow tomorrow!
      You’re right, spring is a very ‘concentrated’ season here, it can get very warm suddenly and all the spring flowers are ‘gone’ in an instant! There is never enough time to do everything that needs to be done.
      We are in bad need of a spring ‘extension’ :)

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