Hepatica directly catches the eye with its blue flowers in the still barren spring landscape. We present the most beautiful liverwort varieties and give tips on location and care.
In addition to the common hepatica (Hepatica nobilis), which is native to our area, there are other species and varieties in a wide variety of colours. We briefly present the most beautiful variants and show what should be considered when caring for liverworts.
Hepatica profile: flowering time, origin and properties
Liverworts (Hepatica) belong to the Ranunculaceae family and are common throughout Europe. As is typical for all buttercups, hepatica is slightly poisonous. The plant was formerly assigned to the genus Anemone and was at that time also known as Anemone hepatica. Nowadays, however, this name is no longer valid.
Hepatica bloom from mid-February to April, and thus belong to the early bloomers that already sprout from the earth when many other plants are still in winter dormancy. Like most early bloomers, which include, for example, the familiar wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa), the plant is a spring geophyte. As such, it has underground renewal buds, with the help of which it sprouts immediately after the cold season, when enough light still falls on the ground through the bare trees.
Hepatica, which grow up to 15 cm high, are usually found in sparse deciduous forests on chalky ground but the small perennial is also becoming increasingly popular in the garden. The petals shine blue-purple and together with the white-red stamens are a real eye-catcher. Some varieties also bloom white or pink. When the liverwort reproduces by self-seeding, it can create veritable carpets of flowers. However, hepatica please not only us humans but also numerous insects that can help themselves to their pollen.
The most beautiful species and varieties
Besides the common or common hepatica (Hepatica nobilis) and the large blue hepatica (Hepatica transsilvanica), there are several varieties and cultivars in different colours but by far not all of them are in horticultural use.
Hepatica nobilis: The common hepatica, which can still be found in some sparse deciduous forests, blooms blue-violet, rarely pink or white. It has five to ten petals but most often six. The stem leaves have entire margins and three lobes.
Hepatica transsilvanica: Unlike the common hepatica, the large blue hepatica has a notched leaf margin. The stamens are also blue. This species is mainly distributed in Romania and is not found in our forests.
Hepatica nobilis ‘Alba’: A garden variety with white flowers is the cultivar Hepatica nobilis ‘Alba’. It is therefore also called white-flowered hepatica.
Hepatica nobilis ‘Rubra Plena’: This variety has pink, double flowers that appear particularly gorgeous and are very showy.
Hepatica nobilis ‘Pink Forest’: The pink flowers in this variety are not double but resemble in shape the flowers of the common hepatica.
Hepatica nobilis var. pyrenaica: This variety is also known as the Pyrenean hepatica and, as the name suggests, is found in the French and Spanish Pyrenees. In addition to the pale purple flowers, the spotted foliage leaves are most striking here.
Planting hepatica: location, soil and more
Blue hepatica grows mainly in sparse forests in the shade of trees. It is heat-loving and prefers calcareous, loamy soils. So, if you want to plant liverworts in the garden, you can use the natural forest site as a guide.
Like most early bloomers, hepatica is best planted in autumn between September and October. Sowing should also take place in autumn, as it is a cold seedling. That is, the action of a prolonged cold period is necessary for the seed to germinate. The location should preferably be partial shade because the liverwort grows in the forest but sprouts there when the trees have not yet formed leaves. The perennial prefers a nutrient-rich, loamy and humusy soil in the neutral to alkaline pH range. If the soil is too acidic, adding lime can be helpful. The ideal location is well-drained and always fresh or moist in the cooler months, without waterlogging. Hepatica can also be kept in a balcony box or pot. The larger the planter, the more impressive the flowering in the end.
As a high-quality substrate is suitable, for example, our Plantura Organic Flower Compost, which does not use peat and thus contributes to climate protection. The minerals contained promote soil life and flowering. The mixture contains crushed expanded clay to maintain high structural stability, compost in turn provides a long-term basic supply of essential nutrients.
Since hepatica does not grow very large, it is not necessary to maintain large planting distances. You can plant the plants in small or large clusters of 10 to 20 specimens. If you want the plant to spread, there should be enough space in the environment for offspring.
Tip: If hepatica is planted under deciduous trees, falling leaves can simply be left. These provide the tender plants with protection from dehydration and cold.
Plant care: what to consider
Hepatica is a fairly undemanding plant that does not require much care in the right location.
The liverwort needs to be watered mainly from autumn to spring. Mostly, however, the necessary water requirement is already provided by the rain. The foliage appears after flowering, so after the flowering period you should continue to keep the soil moist. Liming: The plant prefers a neutral to alkaline site. Since many substrates and garden soils tend to be slightly acidic, occasional liming is recommended. The addition of lime increases the pH of the soil to give hepatica an optimal location. However, you should be careful not to add too much lime. Depending on the initial condition of the soil and lime form, the amount to be used varies.
Fertilisation is recommended, especially in the spring, to provide a little boost to growth. The fertiliser should not be incorporated into the soil because hepatica is quite sensitive to disturbances of the root zone. Especially when kept in pots, fertilisation is recommended every two weeks starting in March to ensure that the nutrient-consuming plant is adequately supplied. Again, to avoid disturbing the liverwort, it is best to use a liquid fertiliser, such as our Plantura Liquid Flower Food. This not only provides beautiful blooms and strong root growth but also protects the environment with its natural and animal-free ingredients. For the plants in the bed is also suitable to apply nettle liquid manure.
Pruning and wintering
Hepatica is hardy and also does not require pruning. However, if you keep the plant in a pot, you should put the container in a sheltered place during prolonged periods of frost because the pot can not provide adequate protection from the cold. Since this is a native wild perennial, a rather cold overwintering in a shed or garage is much healthier for the plant than overwintering indoors.
Tip: Liverworts are very sensitive to disturbance and do not like transplanting. If you do want to move the plant, it will take a few years to recover.
In favourable locations hepatica reproduce independently with the help of ants. If you still want to do it yourself, you can sow seeds or divide the plants. However, since hepatica does not tolerate disturbance, the plant may not resprout after division.
Should you wish to sow, you can either use purchased seeds or collect the liverwort seeds on the plants yourself. Seed ripening takes place after flowering, that is, between May and June. After harvesting, the seeds should then be spread on growing soil, lightly pressed and moistened. In a sheltered place, the seeds can then overwinter and eventually sprout in the spring. Since hepatica are cold germinators, they absolutely need winter temperatures to break dormancy, that is, to allow germination.
Are hepatica poisonous?
Like all buttercups, hepatica are mildly toxic to both humans and animals. Therefore, when coming into contact with the plant, wear gloves for safety or remember to wash your hands thoroughly after working with the plants.
Effects and usage
The name “liverwort” refers on the one hand to the shape of the petals, which are supposed to remind us of our human liver. On the other hand, the plant was once also used to cure liver ailments. When dried, the plant loses its toxicity and a decoction can be made with white wine, which is said to help against indigestion and cystitis, among other things. Such use of the plant, for safety, you should first consult with a doctor. Since hepatica may not be picked or dug up according to the Federal Species Protection Act, only specimens from one’s own garden may be used for this purpose.