Hardy Hepatica Nobilis

Hepatica nobilis collage
Hepatica nobilis liverleaf under conifers
Hepatica nobilis liverleaf under conifers

Hepatica nobilis (liverleaf) makes a terrific hardy groundcover for your shady areas. In spring it sends up these bright flowers. As you can see in the photo above, the colours of this blue form can look bluish or purple, but from a distance they appear to be an electric blue. They make an excellent woodland planting and are very hardy in zone 3.

Hepatica nobilis with new leaves
Hepatica nobilis with new leaves

Hepatica can grow in fairly dark shade. Mine are flowering in a garden section that gets only a brief amount of dappled light underneath a pine and spruce on the north side of my house. Despite the shady location, they send up those delightful blue flowers in early to mid-spring that seem to glow above the pine needle debris. I leave the cones and needles where they drop here as a natural mulch, and the Hepatica fit right in, thriving in the suburban forest mulch. The squirrels add to the mulch by perching on branches above and working their way through the cones, dropping scales in middens as they go. The Hepatica rhizomes have been spreading slowly, so they make a better groundcover every year.

Hepatica nobilis blue flower closeup
Hepatica nobilis blue flower closeup

The flowers are about 10 cm (4 in.) tall and about 2 cm (an inch) across. These hardy perennials start blooming before the new leaves emerge, so they can appear to be flowering right from the garden floor.

Hepatica nobilis top of hairy leaves
Hepatica nobilis top of hairy leaves

Some of last year’s leaves have persisted over the winter, but new fresh leaves with 3 lobes start growing as the flower period ends. The Hepatica leaves and stems are very hairy. The new leaf uncurling on the top right shows how fuzzy the backs and stems can be. The fresh leaves are a light, shiny green,  but they’ll eventually darken as they grow larger. Those leaves will meet at the edges and overlap to make a good groundcover as they mature over the next month.

Hepatica nobilis hairy leaf side closeup
Hepatica nobilis hairy leaf side closeup

Check out the hair on these as seen from the side. The underside of the leaves is covered in peach fuzz, as are the downy stems.

Hepatica nobilis collage
Hepatica nobilis collage

The collage above shows how they look for 3 weeks in spring, while the one below shows the good looking foliage they’ll have for the rest of the summer. They are surrounded by Hosta, Brunnera (Siberian bugloss), Athyrium (ferns), Heuchera (coral bells), Tiarella (foamflower), and Aruncus (wild ginger), most of which are still emerging in the garden.

Hepatica nobilis leaf collage
Hepatica nobilis leaf collage

Hepatica nobilis is a charming plant for what could be a challenging garden area.  Those electric blue flowers will glow in the shadowy garden areas, but with their small size and simple petals they blend in with a natural garden area. Then over the summer, their thick, lobed leaves make an attractive groundcover, needing very little care.

12 thoughts on “Hardy Hepatica Nobilis”

  1. Lovely hepatica photos! They are so welcome when they first appear in spring. After a long winter they bright up the landscape.
    The big photo with the hairy stems are beautiful!

    1. Ms S, it probably prefers average moisture, but I have it in a mostly dry site. Although it gets some supplemental watering, it seems to tolerate the dryness, perhaps because of the slightly thickened leaves, and the foliage stays good all summer. The leaves persist all winter, but it can get a little scruffy by spring. The new leaves appear quickly with the flowering, and it soon has a fresh set of good looking leaves.

  2. Hepatica nobilis is here natural forest flower. It is quite tolerate with dry condition, but it has to have blanket of old leaves left on it for winter. On spring it likes sun, but shade during summer, so here it grows mostly under hazelnut-forests.

  3. Hello, Northern Shady! :-) I haven’t been posting much lately, either. I am about ready to post on our Very Early Spring this year!! How is your weather going up there?? Hope to re-establish our gardening friendship!!

    1. Hi Shady Gardener, we’ve had the mildest winter and incredible spring weather. It’s the earliest I’ve ever had my snowdrops flowering. I hope everything is greening up for you.

  4. Hi there! I know this thread is old but I’d love to connect. I live in Edmonton too and have lots of shade so I love looking at your site for ideas.

    1. Garden girl, hi fellow Edmontonian. I’ve been experimenting with a lot of different perennials for our climate in the shade, and have been pleased with how many pretty options are available.

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