Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Spring Beauty

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Another early riser, this flower can be seen sprouting up in various places in the lower Don and some of the neighbouring ravines. It is native to Eastern North America and ranges from Florida up to Nova Scotia. Each plant produces a single 8 petaled white flower. Bloodroot gets its name from the red sap that exudes from the stem or roots if it is broken or crushed.

It grows low to the ground, and spreads easily. According to Wikipedia, its seeds are spread by ants. Ants take the seeds into their burrows. The ants eat a fleshy part of the seed called an elaiosome and store the seed in the burrow until it germinates. Both the ants and the plants benefit. This is called a mutualistic behaviour.

The plant sap has been used as a dye and there are references to some medicinal qualities but it turns out that the sap is a potent neurotoxin. Ingestion should be avoided. To us current day urban dwellers the biggest benefit is its aesthetic qualities. To ensure that future citizens can also enjoy its beauty, just take pictures and leave the plants for the ants.

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