Hepaticas in North Carolina

The purpose of this page is to provide an identification aid for liverleaf (genus Hepatica) in the mountains of North Carolina. There are two species/varieties (depending on source) native to North Carolina, Sharp-lobed Liverleaf (Hepatica acutiloba, syn. Hepatica nobilis var. acuta) and Round-lobed Liverleaf (Hepatica americana, syn. Hepatica nobilis var. obtusa), and their ranges overlap in the mountains and western Piedmont.

H. acutiloba is common in rich cove and northern hardwood forests in the mountains and rare in the higher elevations of the western Piedmont, whereas H. americana is common in moist to rich forests in the Piedmont and rare in the lower elevations of the mountains. Based on their reported ranges shown in green in the USDA PLANTS database maps below, it is probably safe to assume that any Hepatica observed in the State Parks around the High Country of northwest North Carolina is H. acutiloba.

When trying to distinguish between the two species based on morphology, it is diagnostic to get a good view of their leaves. H. acutiloba has rhombic leaves with parallel sides tapering to an acute tip, whereas H. americana has strongly rounded leaves with convex sides. In the absence of leaves, some features of the flowers may aid in identification as well. The flowers are subtended by three bracts, which in H. acutiloba have acute tips and often show between the sepals when the flower is viewed from above, whereas they are rounded and seldom show in H. americana. H. acutiloba is more likely to have white flowers with more than 6 sepals, while these occur more rarely in H. americana.

The NC range map above was colored in using data from the Vascular Plants of North Carolina website. The plant drawings are from the USDA PLANTS database and not copyrighted (original source: Britton & Brown: An illustrated flora of the northern United States, published 1913). For more pictures comparing these two species, also see the Native Plants of the Carolinas and Georgia website.

Posted on November 10, 2019 01:23 AM by annkatrinrose annkatrinrose


Thanks,@annkatrinrose! This is a useful resource. I had never bothered to learn the floral characters, and had never studied the range maps. Nice to see that my general impression of the higher mountains - Piedmont range dichotomy is supported by the literature.

Posted by eraskin about 4 years ago

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