Liverlilies & Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day

Today was a perfect spring day … the pond is melting and little bits of green kept popping up through the day. I dare not hope that spring is here to stay, but perhaps it will.

This afternoon, I ventured out in the back garden to uncover the liverlilies (Hepatica nobilis), since they will be in bloom before most other plants. This is the first picture I took in the garden last spring. Unfortunately, most of my 2006 early- spring garden pictures were lost when my hard drive crashed last June. That was a good lesson to learn about making copies of pictures. (And please note that there isn’t a single thing blooming in my garden this April 2007….so I resorted to a 2006 pic. )

Liverlilies have a fascinating history which is probably why they are one of my favourite flowers. For such a a delicate and cheerful flower, I have always been puzzled by their name (which reminds me of the tough fried liver of my childhood … I hope my mum misses out reading this post!) Supposedly, the plant’s name is derived from its three-lobed leaves that resemble a human liver.

Of course, me being me, I embarked on a quest to learn more about how liverlilies received their name. Henriette’s herbal website is a treasure trove of fascinating information for plant lovers. If you love leafing through old plant books, you will have a blast at Henriette’s site. The full text of several classic herbal medicinal books dating from the 1870s can be read there.

From Henriette’s, I headed over to Michael Moore’s website, and spent some entertaining time reading the 1924 edition of The Working Man’s Model Family Botanic Guide by William Fox. Moore describes this guide, as follows:

This book may have been the most widely used herb book of its era in Great Britain. A peculiar mixture of American Thomsonian and physiomedicalist philosophy, “Muscular Christianity,” and common sense …. It is a refreshing glimpse into late Victorian alternative, and by inference, Standard Practice Medicine.

On Paghat’s website, I learned much about the ‘doctrine of signatures’, which gained popularity in diagnosing and treating disease in the 1700s. Mixed in with astrology, it was thought that certain plants could be used to heal different organs because of the shape of their leaves or flowers.

In the context of liverlilies, Paghat explains how they became associated with treating liver conditions.

After the astrological diagnoses was completed, the illness would be treated on the basis of plant “Signatures.” At the height of this idiocy, American herbalists convinced themselves God’s “mark” on Hepatica was that its leaves turned liver-colored in winter & by a stretch of the imagination looked like little slabs of chicken livers. Ipso facto, hepatica benefits the liver, though the treatment also required knowledge of the position of Jupiter who had authority over the liver & kidney.

Yet again, I spent an enchanting few hours lost in the world of plants and their history. And now it is time for bed where I am planning to continue reading Anna Pavord’s wonderful book, The Naming of Names. And yes, it is all about how plants got their names.

17 thoughts on “Liverlilies & Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day

  1. Liver lilies are an interesting plant. You seem to be having nicer weather than we are in Ontario. I do have lots of plants poking through the ground though … making me an optimist that things are improving.

  2. Hello Kate – happy to meet you and thank you for leaving the nice comment on my blog. I can see I will love going back over all the interesting posts you have made – I do enjoy reading about the lives and interests of new frinds in different parts of the world. Canada is one of my favorite countries and we’re off to BC again in June. I love gardens and plants(you know how we English are about gardening on our little plots!)so Buchart Gdns. is always visited. I spent yesterday working in mine – be sure to visit me again and see what’s blooming here in NC.Your Spring is just around the corner – those little green shoots will soon be big plants!Enjoy your day.~ Mary ~

  3. Pretty plant, at first I thought it was a sweet violet. I’ve never seen a liverlily.I’m off to have a look at Henriette’s site, sounds most interesting.

  4. Oooh, you’ve got hepaticas too. We call them liverwort here (wort meaning plant in one of the old languages), and one species used to grow wild in NS, but is pretty well extirpated…:-( thanks to the clearcut mavens and other forms of ‘development’. The hepatica we have in our garden I bought from a nursery that grows its own plants, never wildcrafts them, so I was happy to get it. It WAS showing some buds and foliage, but it–and just about everything else in the garden–is buried in snow again, after Friday’s weathersnit. Sigh. April’s sure being the cruelest month here….didn’t receive your letter yet, but it’s probably taking the scenic route through Canada, and got lost in Quebec somewhere….(lol). Glad you got the book and hope you enjoy..(and hope you enjoy The Naming of Names, too. I have some other books about plant history and identity here that I’ll send you the names of if you wish. We have similar interests there. cheers, jodi in sunny-but-snowed-in Scotts Bay

  5. “Jupiter and the liver”. What an absorbing post, k. You always show new connections for me. Thanks

  6. What a gorgeous color they are! I’m glad spring is making its way to you! We have had lots of rain, but I’m not complaining…the old “April Showers, May Flowers” thing (at least I hope). I tried once to grow them but was unsuccessful…seeing your picture, I think I should give them another chance.When I google something, I frequently get Paghat’s website but am not familiar with the others…so, some new ones to explore!Didn’t know the name liverlilies either! Learned something new! Thanks!Very interesting, as always!

  7. P.S. Forgive me for not noticing before…but I love the photo of your garden up there!

  8. Good that the pond is melting! Mine did and then it froze again! Now it’s thawed again but my garden earth is still frozen however I did manage to find brave early bloomers for todays ~Bloom Sunday for Gardeners!~ Wear your sweater when you visit!My bones are freezzzing!!hugs NG

  9. Hepatica is a name I’ve heard before, Kate, although I’ve never grown one. When I read ‘Liverlilies’, all I could think of was its use as an insult in old westerns, as in “You’re a liver-lilled Coward!”Thanks for giving a better meaning to that phrase! Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  10. That Michael Moore site is just packed with information – I’ll have to revisit that when I have longer to spend there. At first I was thinking of a different Michael Moore…The Anna Pavord book is on my wish list – I really enjoyed her book The Tulip.I hope your spring arrives soon!

  11. Thanks for participating in Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, even with your one flower. Your day will come!

  12. Sissie bear – I too remember that lovely dry liver of days gone by – not to mention the smell of it cooking…

  13. Hi Kate – What an interesting and pretty plant. The name liver lily was new to me and looking in my wildflower book, I see there is a white variety too. I wonder if they would grow around here. The leaves look unusual- almost rubbery. Plant lore is amazing to me. Oh yes, my little pond has frozen and thawed a number of times this spring. I think it is going to stay liquid now – I hope. Have a good Monday. Alyssa

  14. Dear Kate- Thanks for that interesting bit of information. It was an eye opener. Till now I believed that Herbal medicine or plant medicine have an exclusively Indian roots but thanks to your post, now I know, that it is certainly not so.

  15. Dear Kate,How good to read that Spring has arrived at your garden too. I’m sorry to hear about your pc crash and loss of many pics.The liver lily has such a dainty little flower, hasn’t it? Very elegant and pretty. In Dutch it’s called liver flower, so we had the same idea about this little plant and what to use it for in medicine once upon a time.

  16. Those are very pretty. I’ve never heard of them before. Thanks for sharing! Take care…

  17. Wow you already have hepaticas blooming! I planted several last year but nary a sign of them. I guess they didn’t survive. 😦

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