Hepatica – The first “true” wildflower to bloom in the tri-state region (that is, other than skunk cabbage) is hepatica (aka liverleaf). Although its name may not suit this pretty flower, it is descriptive of the three-lobed leaf of hepatica.
The fancied resemblance of the leaf in both color and shape to a human liver led early herbalists to deem it useful for treating liver ailments, based on the “Doctrine of Signatures,” a system founded upon the belief that the appearance of a plant would signify what its medicinal properties might be. This belief led to the destructive harvesting of many tons of hepatica leaves in the Appalachian region, which were then processed into various medicinal syrups. These patent medicines were later shown to have no medicinal efficacy.
The leathery leaves turn a deep burgundy color and remain on the plant throughout the winter allowing a minimal amount of photosynthesis to occur on warmer days, thus giving this plant a jump-start on the season.