Liverwort – info, planting, care and tips

Liverwort (Hepatica nobilis)
Liverwort (Hepatica nobilis)

Small but excellent. This description probably applies best to the liverwort. The flower has already achieved cult status in Japan, which is often at a high price.

Profile of liverwort:

Scientific name: Hepatica nobilis

Plant family: buttercup family (Ranunculaceae)

Other names: common hepatica, kidneywort, pennywort

Sowing time: autumn, after seed ripening

Planting time: autumn

Flowering period: March to April

Location: semi-shady to shady

Soil quality: sandy to loamy, calcipholous, nutrient rich, humus rich

These information are for temperate climate!

Use in: ground cover, group planting, under planting, overgrowth, natural garden, park, forest garden

Winter hardiness: hardy, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 5 (-29 °C / -15 °F)

Toxicity: toxic

Bee and insect friendly: Yes

Plant characteristics and classification of liverwort

Plant order, origin and occurrence of liverwort

The liverwort (Hepatica nobilis) belongs to the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae) and is a native perennial with sky-blue flowers that is protected in some countries: This means that it cannot be picked or dug up at the natural site. The unusual name is derived from the shape of the leaves. In the Middle Ages, the liver-like shape of the leaves was said to suggest that the liverwort had a liver-healing effect, but this was only partially true. Their small, blue flowers sprout from the end of February to April from the forest floor between dried leaves and broken branches. On a spring walk in the beech forest, you have surely encountered the common liverwort. Rarely white and pink specimens can also be found in the forest. In contrast, there are a large number of unusual varieties in garden centers.

Characteristics of liverwort


The low, wintergreen perennials form small, compact carpets and reach heights of up to 15 centimeters (6 in).


The 3 to 6 centimeters (1.2 to 2.4 in) long, medium green and glossy leaves are kidney-shaped and lobed. The underside is hairy and colored purple.


From March to April the liverwort shows its most beautiful side. The cup-shaped and hermaphrodite flowers are 2 to 3 centimeters (0.8 to 1.2 in) in size and consist of three green sepals and six to nine flower bracts. The flowers are terminally and radially symmetrical. The flower colors range from the typical blue violet of the species to pink to white for cultivated varieties.


After flowering, the liverwort forms an infructescence in the form of an aggregate fruit.

Liverwort – cultivation and care


If you want to grow the graceful plant in the garden, you should note that it requires forest-like lighting and soil conditions. The floret likes relatively shady spots under bushes and trees with slightly damp soil in winter and spring, and drought in summer. You can easily tell if your liverwort accepts the location you have chosen. If it does not feel well, the leaves quickly become stained with dry, brown spots, mainly on the leaf margin.


A calcareous, humus-rich, moderately dry to fresh, well-drained soil is ideal. The liverwort thrives in neutral to minimally alkaline soils.

Flower of liverwort
Flower of liverwort


In order for the small woodlander to come into their own, liverwort should be planted in such a way that they can unhindered form a larger polster. When planting, make sure to loosen up heavy soils with a little sand so that no waterlogging can occur later. If you want to cover a larger area with the liverwort, you should plant the perennials relatively densely – 24 to 26 plants per square meter (10 sq ft.) are ideal. It is important when planting that you put the plants in the soil as soon as possible after purchase, because their roots dry out quickly.

The best time to plant spring blooming perennials is in autumn. The liverwort is no exception. If you put the pretty tiny things in the ground from the beginning of September to mid-October, they will be on time in March with their first flowers.


Under the influence of normal spring weather with repeated rainfalls, there is no need for additional watering. The liverwort is watered only if the drought persists. This applies all the more if in summer the dense canopy of neighboring deciduous trees no longer lets the rain water through. Ideally, give the calcareous tap water with the spout directly to the roots, because irrigation on the plant affects the beauty of the flowers.


If the quality of the soil reaches humus-rich forest soil, organic starter fertilization in late February / early March is sufficient. In order to satisfy the desire for privacy, liquid fertilization with nettle slurry, liquid compost (put compost in a bucket, pour with water, let stay for 3-5 days) or a commercially available preparation is recommended.

For plants in a bucket, however, there is a higher need for nutrients. If you administer a liquid fertilizer for flowering plants every 14 days from March until the end of flowering, the abundance of flowers leaves nothing to be desired. In the year of planting and after repotting in nutrient-rich substrate, there is no need to add fertilizer.


A prune is not necessary per se. If you cut off withered flowers in spring, this measure creates a clean appearance. In order for the longed-for flower carpets to emerge, the perennial should be allowed to sow itself anyway. The foliage is pulled in automatically, so that you do not have to expose yourself to the toxic content unnecessarily as part of cutting measures.


At the right location, liverwort prefers to grow undisturbed, in peace and quiet, and requires little care. In autumn, they should only be covered with a little bark mulch. Falling autumn leaves can easily kept there and serve as a protective layer for the shade trees. The old autumn leaves are only removed shortly before the new blossom in spring.


Liverwort can be propagated either by division or sowing. If the perennials are divided, the best time to do so is immediately after flowering. The split plants need well-developed roots, so you should only split adult specimens. However, these also grow very slowly.

Note: If the proliferation at the site is massively disrupted, the next flowering will take 2-3 years.

Sowing, on the other hand, comes with a long patience because hepatica seeds are in no hurry to germinate. This is how to do it correctly:

  • Harvest the ripe seed pods timely before they are carried off by ants
  • Fill a seed tray with loose seeding compost and sprinkle the seeds on it
  • Cover with sand or vermiculite, press slightly and moisten with a fine spray
  • Place in a partially shaded, protected place in the garden or on the balcony

The following year, germination begins in January / February, provided the cold germinators received the necessary cold stimulus from 0 to 4 °C / 32 to 39 °F over 4 weeks. The two cotyledons grow in the first year, followed by further leaves in the following year. Liverworts are pricked out in the third year after ripening to be planted out in the autumn of the fourth year.

Diseases and pests

The liverwort is a robust shade plant and hardly susceptible to plant diseases and pests. However, it is sensitive to persistent waterlogging. The result is rotting roots and falling leaves. Therefore, make sure that the soil is well drained.


Generally, liverwort is hardy down to -29 °C / -15 °F, but to prevent it from suffering any damage until the start of flowering in late winter, it is protected with a layer of leaves before the first frost. If the site is under deciduous trees, just leave the dropped leaves.

Potted plants are being moved into the bright, frost-free greenhouse or the unheated staircase. At the end of February / beginning of March, carry the planters out on the balcony to start their flowering. Water during the winter in the bed in the event of black frost. The root ball must not dry out in the winter quarters, so that watering is repeated here.

Use in the garden

Liverwort are wonderful for planting under trees or for particularly shady corners in the garden and can be easily combined with other shade plants as e.g. woodruff, lily-of-the-valley or wild garlic.


Not only European liverwort is available in nurseries, but also ones from Asia. The Japanese liverwort (Hepatica nobilis var. Japonica) is particularly nifty in bloom and also very expensive to purchase. The ‘Yamahibiki’ variety, for example, costs around 250 € / 300 $ per plant.

But it can be even more expensive: True liverwort collectors pay sums for special breeds and rarities from Japan, for which you could also buy a small car. It should be noted that some of these Asian treasures only thrive in the cool and temperate winter garden.

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