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Hepatica is one of the earliest flowers to bloom in the Spring. Small white or bluish flowers on slender fuzzy stems emerge from leaf litter. The flowers have 6 to 8 "petals" actually sepals and are about 3/4 inch in diameter. The centers are greenish yellow. Remains of the previous year's leaves may be found. These are 3 lobed and brown in color, vaguely resembling a liver, hence the name. The lobes of the acutiloba species found in the Huntsville area are pointed. After flowering is over the new green 3-lobed leaves will develop and will be seen the rest of the growing season. In the Fall, the dark colored seed pods resulting from the blooms are also visible.
Hepatica is very common in local woods. Flowers are usually seen from late February through early March. The flowers tend to shrivel up at night and on cold rainy days. The best time to look is on warm sunny afternoons. Hepatica are numerous in the Huntsville Land Trust and Monte Sano State Park. Certain areas have some of the blue tinted flowers.
Considerable color variation may be observed from plant to plant, ranging from white to pale blue. Each plant usually produces several flowers, each of the same color. Groups of dozens or hundreds of plants may sometimes cover much of a wooded hillside. Hepaticas are attacked by the late spore stages of a rust fungus. Because earlier stages of this rust attack fruit such as almond, cherry, plum, peach, and apricot, hepatica is often kept away from orchards. There is another similar North American species, the round lobe hepatica. The two species are distinguished from each other by the shape of the leaves: round lobe hepatica has rounded lobes instead of the sharp lobed hepatica more common to North Alabama.
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