I do my botanizing walking our dog. New Puppy isn’t very patient so I have to be quick about it, but I regularly manage to find interesting plants.
This week I spotted Sanguinaria canadensis: this North Carolina native is commonly known as bloodroot or red puccoon. I didn’t dig it up to examine its signature blood-red roots as it has several above-ground traits that make it easy to identify. This pretty plant employs strategies known to all college students —it moves around with a little help from its friends.
Bloodroot begins to emerge from the leaf litter in March — its immature blooms, tightly wrapped white cocoons, sit atop two leaves clasping their stem. Many bloom and leaf shape variations cause it to be divided into several subspecies, but their characteristic embracing leaves makes it easy to identify.
From March to May, they bloom producing white petals with bright yellow stamens. Their show doesn’t last long, only a day or two. Once they are pollinated by bees or files their petals clasp together and green seed pods eventually develop. Then their friends get involved.
Plants travel by casting their children out into the world: they shape them to move and provide nutrients to give them a good start. Think of plant seeds as a baby in a box with a lunch. Bloodroot gets its neighborhood friends to move its kids before feeding them lunch for their efforts.
You can impress your friends by dropping this bit of Latin into your daily conversation — mymeocochory. Translating as “circular dance,” it describes the relationship bloodroot has with the local ants. The ants carry off the bloodroot’s seeds so they can feast on the fleshy structure, (more Latin) the elasiosome, that is attached to the seed. Once they’ve finished their meal they throw the seed out of their nest, it germinates and the plant’s cycle of life begins again.
While it can be found across our state, bloodroot is most often found in the mountains. Woodlands covered with leaf litter provide protection for their friends the ants and tree canopy provide the ideal moist, part-shade sunlight environment the plants need to thrive.
Bloodroot is a member of the poppy family whose members are described as (yes, more Latin) lactiferous, meaning they produce a milky or watery fluid. In the case of bloodroot, it is filled with a fluid that is dark orange in the plant’s above ground parts and blood-red below ground. This fluid is alkaloid which makes it bitter tasting, so animals typically leave the plant alone.
I’m still holding off on cleaning the leaf litter from my garden beds, as it continues to provide cover for the ants and other critters who find refuge there. I’m hoping they will be good neighbors and help spread bloodroot around our landscape too.
Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email firstname.lastname@example.org.