Bloodroots (are doin’ it for themselves)

anthers away

My Facebook feed is full of bloodroot right now. Sanguinaria canadensis. Bloodroot is the first big, splashy native ephemeral, and thus popular among macro-lensed flower nerds compelled to document signs of spring.
Ephemeral means it isn’t splashy for long, so I dashed to Warner Park Nature Center today to get my bloodroot fix.

Not only is the bloom duration brief, but a flower limits its own bloom time, only opening on sunny days deemed warm enough. No nectar, only pollen. This means a short-lived flower is open for business part-time and does not even offer sweets for insects. What kind of strategy is this? How can it ensure pollination and the next generation of baby bloodroots?

Bloodroot knows itself to be one of the only games in town. It knows there will be early insects that can seal the deal: to deliver new pollen while foraging for more pollen, or while searching for nectar that simply isn’t there.

And bloodroot has a backup plan. Should a beetle (or bee or whatever) not make a timely appearance, boodroot can, if required, self-pollinate.
(I can almost hear Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin singing “Bloodroots . . . are doin’ it for themselves.”)

My photos illustrate two stages. In the earlier one, Bloodroot bends the male parts (anthers, with pollen) away from the female part (the stigma) to prevent self-fertilization.

If no insects oblige with fresh pollen, after about three days the flower gives up and bends the anthers toward the stigma. See later pic. Better her own pollen than none at all.

After pollination, the petals fall and the ovary swells and becomes a seed-filled capsule, which brings us to another cool trick. Attached to each seed is a tiny treat for ants. Ants carry the seed to their nest, feed the treat blob to larvae, and then dump the still intact seed into the trash. And get this: ant garbage is typically a rich, sheltered medium ideal for bloodroot seed germination.

bloodroot male
female bits covered by male bits

Myrmecochory is the term for ant-dispersed seed, and the ant-lure blob is called an eliasome.

What a clever plant. If I were half as clever I could probably remember how to spell myrmecochory.

I did not mention ways humans have used bloodroot, because I’ve said too much already. But meanwhile, don’t eat it: every part of the plant is toxic.

Go see bloodroot! And smell it, which I forgot to do.

Notes to self:
Smell it.
And, notice the position of anthers during self-pollination: are the pollen pads facing stigma or not? Because my second photo might be of a just-opened flower with stamens still migrating outward and anthers facing away.

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