Spring flowers in the Alps: The extraordinary story of Anemone hepatica

Our mountains boast incredibly rich flora, and every flower reveals an interesting story. One of those stories involves Anemone hepatica. Its common name is liverwort and it’s one of the first spring flowers bringing colour to the forest floor. The petals can be white or pink, but most flowers are a bright blueish-purple. The colourful petals with bright yellow and white reproductive organs in the centre of the flower make hepatica without a doubt one of the most beautiful spring flowers in the Alps. But it’s not only it’s beauty that makes this an extraordinary plant.  

Ants help with seed dispersal

Like with most flowering plant species, the brightly coloured petals of hepatica attract pollinators, such as solitary bees, but hepatica also relies on insects for its seed dispersal. And here it becomes interesting, because the seeds have nutritious structures (called elaiosomes) which are very attractive to ants. That’s why the ants carry the seeds to their nests where they feed the elaiosomes to their larvae. Afterwards the ants deposit the (undamaged) seeds in a waste area of the nest: an ideal location to germinate. This way both the ants and hepatica gain tremendously from this extraordinary relationship between flower and insect.

anemone hepatica
Anemone hepatica. Photo by Simone van Velzen
Anemone hepatica leaf
The leaves of Anemone hepatica are a very distinctive shape. Photo by Simone van Velzen

Where to find Anemone hepatica

In the Alps, look for hepatica on the forest floor of mixed or deciduous forest, preferably on lime stone soil. The flowers will bloom in early spring (March/April). The dark green leaves appear after the flowering season and stay green over winter.   

Simone van Velzen

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