Thursday, April 28, 2016

Bloodroot Bleeding

Sap oozing from cut leaf surface - Christine Chiu
On the Master Naturalist/Missouri Native Plant Society Wildflower Walk at Bull Creek we identified 54 species plus a few blossoming trees.  One of the most interesting if somewhat less showy now is the Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis).   While they had already bloomed and were forming seed pods, they are always entertaining for their novel characteristics.

Bloodroot leaf - Click to enlarge
To my untrained eye it is its distinctive leaf with palmate veins and 5-9 lobes plus minor lobes that catches my eye.  They are both glabrous and glaucous, great words with a personal meaning.  Glaucous refers to a covering of a whitish powder or waxy coating like the stems of the common raspberry stems. Glabrous refers means "without hairs of any kind," an easy definition for me to remember.

Bloodroot Flowers - REK
The early spring flowers are short lived, 1-2 sunny days while using its energy to produce a fragrant scent.  They are notable for their marked variation in size, number of petals and even their appearance.  Generally white, they occasionally produce pink petals.

Bloodroot get its name form the color of the sap that extrudes from its cut surface.   This colorful liquid was used by Native Americans as a dye as well as an antiseptic, a property that has been confirmed as antibacterial by modern medicine.

Sap oozing from cut leaf surface - Christine Chiu
We have been known to dig up a root on occasion to demonstrate its colorful sap but Christine Chiu took this to another level.  She pointed out a leaf which had tiny orange-red dots along a cut edge that resembled tiny mites.  It had been  apparently chewed by a critter - maybe a squirrel needing antibacterial properties for an inflamed gum?  On close examination, the orange dots were sap extruding from the cut surface!

Bloodroot seed capsule

The story only gets more interesting.  Their blossoms are replaced by a green seed capsule that will fade to yellow within days.  Then it will do what all plants (and also all animals) spend their lives trying to accomplish, release its seeds for a new generation before fading until next year.  The seeds are round and their colors are variable.

While our human ancestors first developed agriculture around 11,500 years ago, ants have been at it for much longer.  Each Bloodroot seed has a tiny white elaiosome, a packet of energy with protein and lipids like a miniature energy bar from a quick shop.  Ants pick up the seeds and transport them to their underground nest, providing food for the colony while planting the seed for next year's crop.

Since discovering Christine's demonstration of the "bleeding leaf," I find myself pinching off a corner of a Bloodroot leaf occasionally, just to watch nature work its wonders.

You can read more on Bloodroot in this previous blog.

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