The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc.

Plants of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States


Common Name
Sharp-lobed Hepatica
Round-lobed Hepatica (Liverwort, Liverleaf)


Scientific Name
Anemone acutiloba (DC) G.Lawson
Anemone americana (DC) H.Hara


Plant Family
Buttercup (Ranunculaceae)

Garden Location


Prime Season
Early Spring



Hepaticas are early spring ephemerals. The difference between the two species treated here is in the leaves and bracts of the flowerhead. "Sharp-lobed" refers to the leaves with 3 deep lobes which are pointed on the ends of the lobes. Likewise the floral bracts have pointed tips. This compares to the "Round-lobed Hepatica" where the ends of the leaves are more rounded, as are the tips of the bracts.

The leaves are deeply 3-lobed on both types, all basal, numbering 3 to 15, stalked. The under surface is often purplish, the base is heart-shaped, margins are smooth and the surfaces can be without hair or with very fine hair. The leaves from the prior year carryover and will be visible at the base of the plant as new leaves do not form until flowering is over. The old leaves will frequently have a purplish color cast to both surfaces.

Flowers. The flowers are borne on leafless aerial shoots (scapes) from the root. These have white hair and extend above the leaves to 4 to 8 inches high. There are no petals, all have 5 to 12 petal like sepals (6 is fairly common) that are somewhat ovate in shape, the total width of the flower up to one inch wide. These are colored like petals would normally be and the color can range from pure white to a pinkish or bluish blush. Stamens number 10 to 30 and surround a yellow-green central receptacle of several pistils.

Bracts: The floral bracts number three and are where you would expect to see a calyx as they closely subtend the flower in a single tier. An actual calyx is absent. These have smooth margins and can have fine hair to none. The shape differs between the "round-lobed" and the "sharp-lobed" as explained above.

Seed: Fertile flowers produce a dry ovoid achene that is slightly winged. Seeds are difficult to germinate as they require a cold moist resting period followed by a warm moist period, then followed by another cold moist period. Stored seed needs to be kept in a cold moist environment. Best let nature do the the work over 2 seasons or divide existing plants.

See Eloise Butler's notes below for more characteristics.


Habitat: The Hepaticas of early spring can be found solitary or in large groups on Hepatica Hill in the Woodland Garden on the west path. Both plants grow from ascending to horizontal rhizomes. They do best in rich soils of upland woods that do not dry out until summer, but are moist until then and well drained, with sunlight in early spring followed by shade from an overhead tree canopy. Years of drought can wipe them out. The earliest known bloom date noted in the Garden was March 29th and the latest was April 27, 1944.

Botanical Names: The name Hepatica is from the Greek hepar, for 'liver' referring to the shape of the leaves, where, according to the old Doctrine of Signatures, the plant would be good for treating liver aliments. Hence also, the old common name of Liverwort or Liverleaf. There is some difference in the scientific name for these plants depending on the reference source as these plants have been undergoing a continuing botanical reclassification. Minnesota authorities, both the U of M and the DNR have followed Flora of North America (Ref. #W7 where the basis for the recent changing of the plant genus to the Anemones is concisely explained) with the names listed above. USDA, which is usually an early adopter of new classifications currently lists the previous scientific names of Hepatica nobilis Schreb. var. acuta (Pursh) Steyerm for the Sharp-lobed and Hepatica nobilis Schreb. var. obtusa (Pursh) Steyerm for the Round-lobed. 'Acuta' and acutiloba both refer to the pointed tip leaf shape. Under the new classification the old varieties are retired.

The Buttercup family was formerly named "Crowfoot." Earlier species names going back to Eloise Butler's times were H. acutiloba for the Sharp-lobed and H. triloba for the Round-lobed. And there were several variations in between. As to the current genus, the origin of the genus Anemone is obscure but generally applied to what are called windflowers, and is thought by some to be from the Greek anemos, meaning 'wind.' But the studied opinion (see Stern, Ref. #37a, and The Flora Ref. #W7) is that consideration must also given to the god Adonis, who in the Greek myth was killed while hunting a boar and from his blood came a red windflower [Anemone coronaria] and the derivation is from an old Semitic word for Adonis.

The author names for the plant classification are as follows: The original descriptions were provided by ‘DC’ who was Augustin Pyramus de Candolle (1778-1841), Swiss botanist, who influenced Charles Darwin. He studied plants, began a systematic catalogue and has 2 genera named for him. Further work has been done by ‘G.Lawson’ who is George Lawson (1827-1895) Scottish-Canadian botanist, considered the Father of Canadian botany. He helped create Canada’s first botanical garden. ‘H.Hara’ refers to Hiroshi Hara (1911-1986) Japanese botanist who published a number of books and papers on the flora of the Eastern Himalaya and Japan.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

Hepatica Sharp-lobed Hepatica Sharp-lobed

Above:    2nd photo - the leaves of Sharp-lobed Hepatica. The flower stems are actually aerial stems of the roots (scapes).

Below: The purplish colored leaves below, are actually the prior year's leaves carried over the winter. New leaves (above 2nd photo), purplish tinged initially, form after flowering.

Sharp-libed HepaticaSharp-lobed Hepatica

Below: Flower color can range from pure white to a pinkish or bluish blush.

Hepatica Blue Sharp-lobed Hepatica

Below: Examples of new Round-lobed Hepatica leaves.

Hepatica Sharp-lobed Round-lobed Hepaticaa

Below: Two examples showing the three green bracts at the base of the colored sepals that are in the place of the missing calyx.

Flower bracts bracts

Below: The emerging hairy stems and buds of Sharplobed Hepatica. One old greenish leaf visible from an adjacent plant.

Emerging flowers of Sharp=lobed
Sharp-lobed Hepaticas

Below: Note the old leaves from the prior year which have overwintered. New leaves will form after flowering.

Sharo-lobed Hepatica

Below: Historic Image of Hepatica Hill on the west Woodland Garden path. Photo from a Kodachrome taken by Martha Crone on April 16, 1955. See story link below on the restoration of this hill.

Hepatica Hill 1977


Notes: Hepatica has been planted extensively in the Wildflower Garden. In some years unfavorable weather decimated the species. Eloise Butler's records show that she obtained plants of Sharp-lobed Hepatica as early as 1907 from the "Government Reservation" (Ft. Snelling area, Minneapolis), again in 1908, '10 and '19; and from the river bank near the Catholic Seminary (St. Paul) in June 1911; on 3 occasions in 1917 from several sources. She also obtained plants from Groveland Park in St. Paul in April 1913; from Minnehaha in 1914,'18 and '20. More were planted almost every year thereafter through 1931. Martha Crone planted the Sharp-lobed extensively from 1945 to 1955, setting out 1,225 in 1947 alone. Cary George planted it in 1998 and Susan Wilkins in 2005.

Round-lobed was perhaps first planted in 1912 when on June 28 Eloise Butler records planting two H. triloba from Osceola WI. On September 13, 1913 and October 28, 1918 she reports planting some from Pine Coulee near St. Paul and on August 3, 1914, same source. On October 7, 1917 she got 55 plants from the Battle Creek area of St. Paul. More in 1921, '24 and '25. Martha Crone set in additional plants in 1934, '35, '36, '43 , '45 and over 110 in 1946. Susan Wilkins planted more in 2013.

Sharp-lobed Hepatica is native to most counties in the SE quadrant of Minnesota and up through the north metro counties. In North America it is found in the eastern half of the U.S. and Ontario and Quebec in Canada. Round-lobed Hepatica is found primarily in the northern 1/2 of the state and on the east side of the state, down as far as the metro area, but not in Hennepin, Carver or Scott counties, which explains why Eloise Butler always went to the St. Paul area to collect plants. They are also found SE along the Mississippi River. Martha Crone did not give a source for the 110 Round-lobed that she planted in 1946.

In the late 1970s Gardener Ken Avery transplanted a number of the Hepatica from Garden hillsides that lost their tree canopy due to Dutch Elm Disease. Unshaded areas are deadly to spring ephemerals.

Other Anemones currently found and native to Minnesota are: A. canadensis, Canada Anemone; A. caroliniana, Carolina Anemone; A. cylindrica, Candle Anemone (Long-fruited Thimbleweed); A. patens, Pasque Flower; A. quinquefolia, Wood Anemone; and A. virginiana, Tall Thimbleweed.

Eloise Butler wrote the following about the Hepatica: "The large Crowfoot [Buttercup] family is without strongly marked characters. Its plants have usually an acrid taste; the leaves are generally more or less cut or divided; the corolla is often wanting, and, when this is the case, the calyx is colored like a corolla; the stamens are numerous; the pistils vary in number from one to several; and all the parts of the flower are distinct or unconnected.

All these points may be verified in the Hepatica, or liverleaf, now in bloom along the river banks. It seems somewhat incongruous to associate a name so musical and a flower so beautiful with anything so prosaic as the liver. Yet Hepatica is “liver” in Greek, and some herbalist, long ago, made the comparison, when he saw the three-lobed leaf. The leaves endure through the winter and their rich tints of bronze and purple garnish the tuft of lovely flowers varying through all shades of blue and lilac to white. The lighter tones are found in the older and more exposed flowers.

Just under the flower, and separated from it by a very short stem, are three green leaves or bracts, as leaves on flower stems are technically named - which exactly imitate a calyx, thus fooling the unwary. When the flowers go to seed, new leaves appear. Several plants get their flower work done early, before they are shaded by the leaves, which unfold later to prepare the food for the next year’s flowers and seeds.

The Hepatica is closely allied to the anemones. Two species are found in Minnesota - one with sharp-lobed and one with round-lobed leaves. The sharp-lobed species only, is indigenous to Minneapolis; but both have been planted in the wild garden in Glenwood Park." (Published in the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune April 30, 1911 - Read full article)

Hepatica Hill: In recent years the section of hillside on the west side of the Woodland Garden, originally known as 'Hepatica Hill' has undergone some restoration and replanting with Hepatica. Article. Martha Crone specifically reported on planting on that hillside in 1946 and undoubtedly, a large number of her 1947 plants when there also.

Poem: Hepatica by Dora Read Goodale, American (1866 - 1915)

References and site links

References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.

graphicIdentification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.