Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Hepatica

On Monday, after finding Bloodroot, Erika and I continued our stroll through the Cannon River Wilderness Area.  Next we came upon Hepatica.  (To call this western section of the county park "wilderness" is a bit of a stretch.  The area is in dire need for trash pickup and much refuse blows out of the adjacent county landfill.  The park is also next to an ATV racetrack.)  Hepatica flowers can be an intense violet, but the blooms quickly fade to white.
Hepatica's liver-shaped leaves (lower left in photo below) indicated to our ancestors that this wildflower could be ingested to cure liver ailments.  Nevertheless, the plant was not used much in Europe until 1880, when suddenly the wildflower became in great demand.  Despite little or no scientific evidence that the plant actually was effective in curing liver diseases, in 1883, about a half-ton of Hepatica was imported to Europe from America.  Cherokees used Hepatica to induce vomiting, thereby ridding themselves of nightmares. In the Carolinas, folk belief held that, if a girl sprinkles Hepatica powder on a man's clothes, he will invariably fall in love with her.  This information was gleaned from Timothy Coffey's The History and Folklore of North American Wildflowers.

Many field guides recognize two species of Hepatica growing in Minnesota, the Sharp-lobed and the Round-lobed, depending on their leaf shape.  These photos are of the Sharp-lobed Hepatica, which prefers less acid soil.  The USDA Plant Database currently considers these two forms to be varieties of a single species, Hepatica, Hepatica nobilis.  Both are found across most of eastern North America.


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