Friday, March 23, 2012

Bloodroot is Blooming

Bloodroot- leaf spread out
Last Saturday was the day for one of the most ephemeral of the "spring ephemerals."  These are defined as plants with short life cycles, usually six to eight weeks long.  The bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis, was only a few days ahead of schedule according to Barb's annual wildflower log.  It blooms for only a day or two before leaving its distinctive leaves as its only evidence through early-summer, so you have to be lucky as well as observant.

Bloodroot has an interesting reproductive strategy.  Some plants spread their seeds by the wind (maples, dandelions, goatsbeard, etc.) and others depend on birds and mammals to transport their seeds (robins for cedar, squirrels for nut species and oaks).  For bloodroot it is the ant.  As described in Wikipedia:

"Bloodroot is one of many plants whose seeds are spread by ants, a process called myrmecochory. The seeds have a fleshy organ called an elaiosome that attracts ants. The ants take the seeds to their nest, where they eat the elaiosomes, and put the seeds in their nest debris, where they are protected until they germinate. They also get the added bonus of growing in a medium made richer by the ant nest debris."
Bloodroot tends to grow in the patchy shade of open woods and prefers moist acidic soil which we have plenty of in our Ozark valleys.  Its distinctive single leaf is wrapped around the stalk as the flower blooms, unfurling prior to the the blossom falling away.  It may double in height before the leaf dies off in the mid-summer.  During this time it is vulnerable to human hunters for its historic medicinal properties.

Early Bloodroot- leaf wrapped
Like many plants, it has a long folk medicine history.  It was used by Native Americans as an war paint, dye, emetic and even a "love charm."  (Don't ask me about wooing a bride with an emetic.)  In later colonial times it was used as a wart remover.  Like many native plants, it has been touted by some companies as a cancer "cure" and is listed on the FDA's Fake Cancer Cures site.  There have been deaths recorded from ingestion of large amounts of bloodroot extracts as documented in Wikipedia.

In some states they are listed as "at risk" or "exploitably vulnerable" due to vigorous over-harvesting as a folk or herbal remedy.  It is important that it should not be taken by mouth, can irritate the skin and its emetic properties may turn off your love life.

Extensive information is at this wimastergardener.org site.

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