First Bloodroot of the Year!

Putting close to 15 miles on the trails this glorious weekend, I was noticing just how delayed spring was this year compared with the past several.  Harbinger of Spring is about at its peak at the St. Louis latitude, and Spring Beauty and Cutleaf Toothwort are a few days to a week before their peak will be here.  But, it is coming.  I saw thousands of these plants pushing there way up through the leaf litter along with Dutchman’s Breeches (very cute little buds, I must say).  I finally tried the rhizome of the Toothwort today while on a hike at LaBarque Creek C.A. near Eureka.  A member of the mustard family, the Toothwort’s small, fleshy and crisp rhizome has a tooth-like appearance, hence its common name.  Another colloquial name associated with this plant is Pepper root, also in description of the rhizome.  I found the taste to have hints of horseradish and green onion, with a little peppery heat.  The perfect size and flavor makes me think it would be perfect in a variety of dishes, including stir-fry and salads.  But since it would require killing a lot of plants, I doubt I will make a habit of it.

As I was coming to the last mile or so of my hike today, I thought I would once again strike out on my first Bloodroot of the season.  But, just in time, I saw a single, fully-opened bloom a couple of feet from the creek.  This was the only subject I photographed all weekend, but it was still a grand couple days for a walk.

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“First Bloodroot of the Year!″

Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, ISO 200,  f/22, 1/15 sec
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Flowers and Blood

“Bloodroot”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens. ISO 160,  f/16, 1/13 sec

I’ve been having a lot of fun with the spring ephemeral wildflowers this year.  It is hard to believe the numbers and diversity that are in peak bloom already this year.  I can’t imagine what the woods are going to look like by the end of April.  You might as well stock up on pyrethrin because by mid-summer the ticks are going to be owning us all.

This image was taken in the Labarque Creek watershed during a early spring hike.  Bloodroot are fascinating plants, getting their name from the reddish sap that is especially prominent in their tuber-like rhizome.  Several Native American tribes have been known to use this sap as a natural dye for artwork projects.

These plants will spread and grow easily clonally and vast colonies can be found that may have started from a single individual.  Another method of reproduction these plants use is myrmecochory, which means that their seeds are dispersed by ants.  The ants feed on a fruit-like structure that is attached to the seed.  The ants move the seeds to the relative safety of their colony and after the ants feed on the fruit they deposit the seed into their underground middens, or trash heaps.  Here the seeds can safely germinate and have access to some useful fertilizer in the process.

Bloodroot sends up a flowering stalk usually before the leaves begin to emerge and blooms usually open before the leaves have fully expanded.  The flowers last less than a full day, so it is recommended you get out on the trail before noon if you really want to seem them in their full glory.