Wild Hepatica in Switzerland in January 2013



As I looked towards this bank, I said to myself, If there are Hepaticas in this area they would love it here. Walking forward a couple of steps they began to appear. Dont get too excited, I kept telling myself, its just because you were thinking about them, and its just a mirage. Not until I touched them could I believe it. My first sighting after visiting this area of Switzerland for 20 years, this was definitely adequate compensation for having to give up skiing.

This path is above the resort of Laax in the upper Rhine valley in South East Switzerland, at 1100-1200 meters above sea level. Geologically it is a land slip with rather loose crumbly soil.


A plant in the cleft of the roots of a spruce on top of a vertical bank, and benefiting from the build up of leaf litter against the wire fence. The first one I saw.


A thriving plant with a well advanced flower bud for early January, growing in the steep over-hanging edge of the same bank


Two plants in the side of the same vertical bank. Note the Hepatica seedling close to the plant on the left, the only seedling I found near any of the plants in the forest. The seeds are collected as food by ants.


A close up of the seedling. This seedling will have germinated late in the previous spring, but they rarely produce more than the seed leaves and a bud until the next spring, putting their energy into the root system to anchor themselves into the bank.


Another vertical bank, shaded by conifers on the other side of the path. None of the Hepaticas I saw would be protected by snow for much of the time, due to the steepness of the slopes. There could be many more under the snow I could not see, and I long to go back in spring time when they are in flower and find out.


A good flower bud on a long woody stem, a bit unusual, but I have noticed it before when re-potting old plants. The roots usually spread from just below the flower bud, but I suppose it needs a mechanism to keep abreast of the build up of leaf litter, and in this case the bank has crumbled away exposing it.


These Hepaticas were thriving better than most, they are on a very steep concave bank, south facing but shaded by deciduous trees, beech and hazel. This is the classic text book situation for them. The Spruce needles among the deciduous leaves must give an open free draining texture to the litter. I was concerned that the litter here had stacked up the entire length of the leaf stems burying the flower buds, so I very carefully dug down to look for them. See the next photo.


They do look a little bit like forced rhubarb! Hopefully the leaf litter will have rotted down by the spring. I carefully covered them over again.


Showing this classic situation for Hepatica.


Beneath this long-since coppiced Hazel I found the greatest density of Hepatica. All the places they were growing were extremely free draining, with open soil or litter that they could get their roots deep down into. They were thriving best where they do not have competition from other plants and are not likely to be disturbed. They seem to find it difficult to get established, however, if they are in the right spot individual plants will live a long time. We would properly categorise them as ancient woodland indicators if they were native to Britain.