Saturday, March 24, 2007

From A Far Island... Hepatica Insularis

Spring has finally found Iowa... or vice versa. This morning the clouds are almost scraping the far ridge, there is thunder rumbling intermittently to the west, and much to the deer herd's relief the grass is greening up; they've already been up the hill twice today to see if it's growing yet. The cardinals are having a running courtship dance back and forth through the trees and brush; it's really more a free-for-all than a dance. A few days ago I could count on my fingers how many different flowers were blooming in the garden; this morning there are probably a hundred varieties, and in a week there will be double that.
I was supposed to drive out east to a woodland nature preserve to help clear brush, but the weather radar shows a blobby all-morning rain moving right down the interstate towards us, so instead I took the camera out to the garden to see what I could find before the rain settles in; the crocuses, in a full palette of sunny colors, tempted me, but instead I poked around the rhododendrons, and found this little treasure. This is Hepatica insularis, a rarely seen relative of our native woodland hepaticas. It is endemic to the southern tip of South Korea, and to Cheju Island, which is Korea's largest island, lying rather like the period at the bottom of a question mark. Cheju is an old volcanic island, a spot where temperate and sub-tropical plants come together. One of the treasures of Cheju Island is this little hepatica, which is unique in that it is deciduous in cold climates like ours... our native hepaticas (americana and acutiloba) are essentially evergreen. The flowers of H. insularis are tiny, and white to pale pink. It is the earliest hepatica to bloom, its flowers rising shyly above the dead leaf litter of our Iowa woods. The leaves will come later, and they also are strking, being silver mottled. I'm not sure why hepaticas aren't grown more in our gardens; they are far more popular in Europe and Asia (especially Japan)... they are too subtle, perhaps. There are few plants as care-free and reliable, and even fewer that bring flowers of such jewel-like loveliness to our March garden.
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Great looking flowers. I just planted some H. acuitloba last year and hope they reappear this spring. Is it because the plants are too small or the flowers disappear too quickly for it to be more popular here?
Ki... they are very retiring plants when not in bloom. I think also part of the problem is that they grow very slowly, so are expensive for nurseries to produce. Acutiloba is really tough... I'd be surprised if it didn't come back for you.
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