Sunday, March 23, 2008


It’s somehow surprising that a spring ephemeral as white and delicate as this should have such a startling name. Bloodroot!

Its name comes from the color of sap stored in its root or rhizome. As time passes, the rhizome grows just under the surface and creates a colony of the remarkable wildflower. Native Americans used this blood red sap as a dye and body paint and called the plant "puccoon."

The seeds of bloodroot are spread by ants, an example of myrmecochory, a botanical term that means “seed dispersal by ants.” It’s a very difficult word to drop into conversation. You might try something like: Are you aware that bloodroot is a myrmecochorous plant? Granted, it’s awkward. You may need to practice it alone, while driving around in your car. Dogs also make very good practice conversation partners. They also seem to hang on our every word and are eager for knowledge.

Many of the delicate woodland spring wildflowers are spread this way. The ants carry the tiny fruits back to their underground tunnels, eat the fleshy parts and then discard the seeds, which eventually germinate.

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