Thursday, March 29, 2012

Spring Flowers: Liverleaf or Hepatica

I love spring in the Appalachians.  I love seeing the progression of the forest coming alive as the weather warms up and the days get longer.  One of my favorite things to see in the woods are blooming redbuds and dogwoods.  Last year, I wrote about a new wildflower each week and, if nothing else, I learned a lot researching the posts.  I intended to restart this feature last week, but I got busy and didn't get around to it, so this week it is.

A couple of weeks ago, we hiked Knob Mountain and Jeremy's Run in Shenandoah National Park.  Nowhere else that I've hiked in the Mid-Atlantic has as many Anemone americana (Liverleaf, Hepatica) as that hike, particularly on the Knob Mountain Cutoff Trail and the Jeremy's Run Trail.  Whole sections of hillsides were covered in purple and white flowers.   A. americana are part of the Ranunculaceae (Buttercup) family.  The flowers, which emerge before most other wildflowers, are about an inch in diameter and have 5-10 purple, pink, or white sepals and three-lobed leaves.  The flowers bloom on top of stalks that are 2-4 inches tall and hairy.  They are found throughout eastern North America

The actual classification of A. americana is still in debate.  Some botanists classify it in its own genus, Hepatica.  Others classify it in Anemone based on shared characteristics with other members of that genus, including a variable number of sepals.  Based on the different configurations of the scientific name for this little plant on various web pages and in guidebooks, there doesn't seem to be much consensus on where it belongs yet. 

 A. americana on the Skyland-Big Meadows Horse Trail in Shenandoah National Park in April 2010.
White A. americana on the Knob Mountain Cutoff Trail (Shenandoah National Park, March 2012).
A. americana on the Appalachian Trail near Neighbor Mountain in Shenandoah National Park (April 2008).
An example of the leaves, which were used at one time to treat liver ailments. 

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