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Spring Ephemerals of Ohio: Bloodroot.

April 26, 2014


Welcome to the 2nd featured spring ephemeral wildflower entry- the first one was an introduction to the subject, and highlighted a plentiful flower, Spring Beauties.  The next plant is quite attractive and when you see one you’ll most likely take notice.

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This is Bloodroot, and its large bloom really stands out in the spring woodlands.  There’s a reason for the name that I’ll get to in a bit- the sizable white flower with 8-12 petals and golden yellow stamens only blooms for a few days, but it looks glorious.

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Bloodroot is easily identifiable before it blooms due to its single large-lobed leaf.  This leaf clasps the stem of the flower.

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Another noticeable feature of this wildflower is its red stem.  This is where the name comes from- Bloodroot indicating a reddish sap.  Be careful with this sap, though- it is poisonous.  It has been used as a red dye by Native Americans.

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Bloodroot’s underground root (known as a rhizome) can spread over the years, spawning multiple flowers and leaves.

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Bloodroot has been used in traditional medicine, and has been claimed as a treatment for worts and other ailments (some being very controversial).

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One of the more interesting facts about Bloodroot is that it uses ants to spread its seed- a process called myrmecochory.

Myrmecochory is seed dispersal by ants, an ecologically significant ant-plant interaction with worldwide distribution. Myrmecochorous plants produce seeds with elaiosomes, a term encompassing various external appendages or “food bodies” rich in lipids, amino acid, or other nutrients that are attractive to ants. The seed with its attached elaiosome is collectively known as a diaspore. Seed dispersal by ants is typically accomplished when foraging workers carry diaspores back to the ant colony after which the elaiosome is removed or fed directly to ant larvae. Once the elaiosome is consumed the seed is usually discarded in underground middens or ejected from the nest. Although diaspores are seldom distributed far from the parent plant, myrmecochores also benefit from this predominantly mutualistic interaction through dispersal to favourable locations for germination as well as escape from seed predation.

Nature is truly amazing in its interactions!

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Bloodroot isn’t terribly numerous except in certain local areas, but it’s quite a show when it’s blooming.  Keep an eye out in the woods.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. April 26, 2014 12:20 pm

    We were fortunate to see some excellent examples of Bloodroot this year. Some were not far from our house in UA.

  2. April 26, 2014 5:44 pm

    I wish we had that here! They are beautiful blossoms!

  3. April 27, 2014 8:14 am

    How lovely! I love the way the leaf ‘clasps’ the blossom, as if to protect it. Nature is truly amazing!

    • April 27, 2014 5:00 pm

      So true, Jo! I tried to find out more about the clasping but didn’t run into anything after a basic search- it would be interesting to know why!

  4. April 27, 2014 8:45 am

    I love these plants, Tracy! When we moved to our present house, I discovered a large patch in the woods surrounding the house. I’ve successfully transplanted several pieces (as soon as they are done flowering and the leaves are maturing) into other areas of the woods and they’ve since spread through some of the shady garden beds. One of the first blooms of spring here!

    • April 27, 2014 5:02 pm

      That’s great, Composer! Apparently quite a few gardeners enjoy this flower, and apparently there are unusual double bloom versions that stay blooming longer. They really look like a cultivated plant, they are quite beautiful!

  5. April 28, 2014 9:19 am

    In both middle and high school, we did projects identifying wildflowers (and sometimes collecting & pressing them for the local nature center). This is one I remember well.


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