Liverleaf (Round-Lobed Hepatica)

Photo of liverleaf wildflower
Scientific Name
Anemone americana (syn. Hepatica nobilis var. obtusa)
Ranunculaceae (crowfoots, buttercups)

One of Missouri's seven species of windflowers, or anemones, liverleaf or round-lobed hepatica occurs in the eastern and southern portions of the Ozarks. It's a hairy, unbranching perennial plant with one flower per stalk; the flowers may be white, pink, blue, or lavender.

The flowering stems (scapes) are extremely hairy with silky hairs and are leafless, bearing flowers singly at the tip. Flowers have 5–12 petal-like sepals, and numerous stamens. Sepals may be white, pink, or shades of blue and lavender. Blooms March–April; one of the earliest-flowering plants in spring.

The leaves are basal, on long, hairy stems, deeply 3-lobed with a heart-shaped base, the lobes rounded. They are light green at first and later turn leathery in beautiful shades of wine-red and brown; they remain so through the winter, surrounding the newly appearing leaves in spring. The leaves usually have withered away by flowering time.

Similar species: Of the six other Missouri species in the same genus, the one most similar is sharp-lobed hepatica (A. acutiloba, syn. Hepatica nobilis var. acuta). It, however, has the 3 lobes of the leaves sharp-pointed, not rounded. It is found primarily in the eastern half and southern two-thirds of Missouri. The two species seldom grow together not only because their ranges are slightly different but also because round-lobed hepatica prefers drier, more acidic sites than sharp-lobed hepatica.

For completeness, Missouri's other five Anemone species are:

  • White anemone or meadow anemone (A. canadensis), scattered, mostly in counties adjacent to the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, a bottomland species usually found on the moist bases of limestone bluffs, levees, moist roadsides, and other lowland areas.
  • Prairie anemone or Carolina anemone (A. caroliniana), scattered, mostly in the unglaciated plains of western Missouri and the western portion of the Ozarks but occurring in other areas as well, occurring in glades, upland prairies, pastures, and other open, rocky, or sandy places, usually on acidic soils.
  • Thimbleweed or candle anemone (A. cylindrica), uncommon, confined to the western portion of northern Missouri's glaciated plains, especially in loess hill prairies and nearby rich upland forests.
  • Wood anemone or wind flower (A. quinquefolia), uncommon and known (so far) only from a single population in Shannon County. It grows in several nearby states and probably occurs elsewhere in our state, too.
  • Thimbleweed (A. virginiana), scattered to common nearly statewide, in a wide variety of mostly open, rocky habitats.
Other Common Names
Blunt-Lobed Hepatica

Height: to about 6 inches.

Where To Find
image of Liverleaf Round-Lobed Hepatica distribution map

Scattered in the eastern and southern parts of the Ozarks.

Occurs in rich upland forests, often on or at the bases of north-facing slopes, rock outcrops and shaded ledges of bluffs, on acidic and less commonly calcareous substrates.

Native Missouri wildflower.

The curious name "liverleaf" comes from the look of the lobed leaves in winter, which turn reddish brown, the color of raw liver. The common name "hepatica" amounts to the same thing, for it also means "liver" (as in "hepatitis").

An ancient theory called the doctrine of signatures held that a plant's resemblance to a part of the body was a "sign" that it could be used to treat diseases of that organ. This plant, with its lobed, liver-colored leaves, resembled a liver and therefore was used to treat liver problems. Liverworts, which are unrelated, got their name for the same reason.

The genus name, Anemone, is derived from Greek and means "daughter of the wind," hence the name "windflower" for many in the group. In Greek mythology, the plant (apparently a member of the genus) originated with the goddess Aphrodite mourning her dead lover Adonis, a mortal gored by a wild boar; as she cradles him, her tears mingle with his blood and become the anemone flower, whose petals blow away with the slightest breeze.

Bees and flies are the primary pollinators. Because the leaves commonly survive well into winter, apparently not many animals eat them. Like other members of the genus, the foliage is probably toxic.

Media Gallery
Similar Species
About Wildflowers, Grasses and Other Nonwoody Plants in Missouri
A very simple way of thinking about the green world is to divide the vascular plants into two groups: woody and nonwoody (or herbaceous). But this is an artificial division; many plant families include some species that are woody and some that are not. The diversity of nonwoody vascular plants is staggering! Think of all the ferns, grasses, sedges, lilies, peas, sunflowers, nightshades, milkweeds, mustards, mints, and mallows — weeds and wildflowers — and many more!