Petticoats and Fur: Hepatica Dressed for Spring

It has been a cold spring here in southwest Michigan. I found some determined Hepatica plants pushing their way up through  dead leaves and lingering snow.The first flower of spring! Finally!

Hepatica nobilis

Hepatica nobilis

 Hepatica symbolizes confidence in the language of flowers. It is a quirky plant with a charming and self-deprecating disposition. Its delicate blue, pink and white flowers are actually sepals that look like petals.“I will teach the world that bracts are just as good to wrap around flower-buds as sepals and that sepals may be just as beautiful as petals. Since my petticoat is pretty enough for a dress why should I not wear it thus?-The Child’s Own Book Of Wild  Flowers

A perennial native herb Hepatica thrives in moist woods beneath oak, beech and maple trees across Northeastern regions of United States. The plant’s leathery leaves have three rounded lobes and are often mottled with a purplish hue. The use and shape of the leaves led to the plant’s abundant nicknames. Liver-leaf, Round Leaf Hepatica, Liverwort, Round-lobed  or Kidney Liver-leaf and Squirrel Cup.

Historically the plant was used medicinally for liver problems. It is associated with some fun plant lore. Hepatica was once thought to  remove freckles and cure crossed eyes or a twisted mouth. Native American women made love charms from the plant “to bewitch men and make them crazy by affecting their hearts.” Long ago, hepatica was a familiar and popular plant with children in and out of the classroom. Wildflowers such as hepatica, arbutus and violets growing so close at hand and readily available were used as seasonal nature study subjects.  


After the plant finishes blooming, new leaves appear and grow throughout summer. Manufacturing and storing up food in the roots  giving Hepatica the  strength and resources to spring into action during the first cool days of next spring. The leaves and furry stems also provide warmth for emerging  flower buds in early spring and hinder ants who try to sneak in and steal flower nectar. However, after thousands of years of living together in the same natural community the ants and hepatica plants became more friendly. They developed  a symbiotic relationship essential and beneficial to both of the parties involved.

 Little lessons in cooperation ! Ants prize hepatica seeds as tasty treats. They harvest and carry them back to  their nests, eat the seed’s sweet outer shell and then help plant them by discarding them in the soil beneath the ground. Now that’s what I call community spirit!  Econicity, ants and plants cultivating balanced friendly relationships supportive to the workings of the whole ecological  system. 

Econicity-Mother Nature's Little Lessons in Cooperation

“Alone of all life forms, plants can not only catch sunlight but by a unique alchemy compound it with terrestrial ingredients to make the basic food and substance of all living things” The Power of Plants  Brendan Lehane 


The original American herb gardens were the pre-settlement native plant communities naturally existing in the fields, woods, meadows and wetlands across North America. Over the course of time, native herbs have contributed to the health and well-being of humans and wildlife alike. Historically they were valued for their medicinal, flavoring, fragrance, industrial, culinary, cosmetic and symbolic uses. David E. Moerman’s book Native American Ethnobotany documents Native American use of 4,029 kinds of plants with a total of 44,629 usages.

Native herbs give so much and ask so little of us. Plant species native to a particular area contribute to its regional econicity, natural heritage, and inherent beauty. Traditional ecological knowledge recognizes that plants, like humans, get by with a little help from their friends.Having developed and co-evolved over centuries within a biological community, native herbs are well-adapted to the regional climate and conditions. We do not always appreciate or notice how individual plants work together as part of a complex and successful ecosystem making our local landscapes unique and different.

Bumble Bee visiting with wild lupine in  Hastings Lake oak savanna    

Bumble Bee visiting with wild lupine in  Hastings Lake oak savanna  


Native herbs are by nature neighborly and multi-talented beings each one, with its own individual character and curious habits. One species may provide special nutrients needed by neighboring plants or perhaps a root system that is beneficial for loosening the soil. Some plants repel insects while others emit fragrances which attract insects. Many native insects and birds rely on indigenous plant species to feed, shelter and raise their young and in return they cooperate with plant pollination and seed dispersal. Plants and wildlife naturally work together for the good of their ecological community. More to come… the Sun is shinning for the first time in days, I think I will step outside for a bit.