Welcome to the Kentucky Native Plant and Wildlife Blog.

Welcome to the Kentucky Native Plant and Wildlife Blog.
The purpose of this blog is to provide information on using native plants in the landscape, issues related to invasive exotic plants, urban wildlife management, and wildlife damage management. It is my intention that this information will assist you in deciphering the multitude of information circulating around the web and condense in some meaningful method as it relates to Kentucky. In addition, I hope to highlight a native plant that can be used in the landscape.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Plant of the week: Sharp-lobed hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba)

Brrrr!  How many wonderful native plants can tolerate the early spring cold like our native hepatica? Depending on the year and weather, this species can begin blooming in late February and early March and I can't tell you how many times I have seen the dainty flowers tinged with brown where ol man winter nipped them.  But as March progresses and gets warmer, this exquisite woodland plant will still be in flower and oft times will still be in flower in late April.  One of the great adaptations for flowering so early is the thick, leathery liver-like leaves (hence the name hepatica) and the thick hairy flower caudex (they really don't have flower stems rather a thickened, underground stem from which the flowers and leaves arise - a similar type of structure is the trunk of a palm tree).  Being in the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae), this species lacks petals and the bracts which support the showy sepals (which range in color from white to pink to blue) are also quite hairy.  The flowers appear before the leaves and the brownish, liver looking three-lobed leaves that appear with the flowers are from the previous growing season.  The taxonomy of this species is pretty interesting as botanists noticed that H. americana grew in more acid conditions whereas H. acutiloba grew in more neutral soils. Hence some use the taxonomy of H. nobilis var. acuta and H. nobilis var. obtusa for H. americana.  I suspect in the nursery trade you are most likely going to see it as H. acutiloba or sharp-lobed hepatica because H. americana is more restricted and less common in Kentucky and elsewhere, it is a smaller, less showy species, and the leaves are rounded at the end instead of pointed. This is a great garden plant and can put on quite a show as the individual flowers can reach up to 1" wide and in mature plants there can be a dozen or more on a single plant.  After flowering, it still has interest with the glossy mottled liver like green leaves which fade to brown and provide winter interest as well.  To get maximum effect in the garden, this species should be grown in groups of 5 to dozens or hundreds.  It is mostly disease resistant and will grow in most any soil as long as it gets shade and a fair amount of organic matter in the soil (no clay).  It is also a long-lived perennial but it does not reproduce easily from seed and most plants come from division.  There are numerous reported home medicinal uses of the plant ranging from being a mild diuretic and laxative to a wash for sore breasts.  In Europe it was touted to be the "cure-all" for ailments, even for eliminating freckles and in this country in the mid-1800's is was the prime ingredient in "Dr. Roder's Liverwort and Tar Sirup" which was used for kidney problems.  In large doses it can be poisonous and with the use of any herbal medicine, I do not condone its use and you should always check with your physician before using any herbal medication.  Besides, why harvest those wonderful leaves when they add such interest to the winter and spring garden.

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