Know Your Natives – Bloodroot

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) of the Papaveraceae (Poppy) Family occurs in eastern Canada and, in the U.S., from eastern Texas to North Dakota and eastward.  In Arkansas, the species occurs primarily in the highlands in the northwestern half of the state, with a few scattered records in the Coastal Plain.  Bloodroot, the only species in its genus, is a stemless perennial plant of rich, moist soils in well-drained, deciduous woodlands.  Bloodroot is an ephemeral, that is, it thrives in full sun in early spring during its flowering and growing season, but goes dormant with the heat of summer.  Plants have knobby, reddish rhizomes with coarse fibrous roots.  Leaf height may reach ten inches.  Rhizomes and leaves exude a reddish sap when cut.  Colonies of bloodroot form from spreading rhizomes as well as from seed.  The genus name relates to the Latin word for “bleeding”.  Bloodroot is also known as red puccoon.*

Photo 1Photo 1:  Bloodroot emergent leaves and flower bud protected by a sheath growing from tips of rhizome.  Note growth rings on rhizome.

Photo 2Photo 2:  Bloodroot flower buds emerge with and are enveloped by the leaves.

Bloodroot is one of the first plants to bloom in late winter/early spring.  Single flowers with enclosing red-tinged leaf emerge together.  Flowers bloom before the leaves mature.  Leaves, after seed capsules have formed, are oval to orbicular with five to eight large, deeply cleft, irregularly rounded lobes along with smaller and less cleft lobes dividing the margins of large lobes.  Petioles at leaf blades are deeply inset (i.e., the bases are heart-shaped).  All leaf margins, including cleft/inset margins, are rounded to wavy.  Upper leaf surface of mature leaves is light green with a bluish tinge while lower surface is whitish-green.  Palmate venation and reticulated inter-veins are especially prominent on lower surface of the fleshy leaves.  Leaves, three to five inches across, are glabrous (hairless).  Four-inch long petioles are round in cross-section.  Leaves quickly fade in early to mid-summer, depending on weather and sun conditions.

Flowers, up to two inches across, consist of eight to 16 pure white petals of varying widths and lengths which may overlap.  Flowers have two light green sepals that fall off as the buds open. Petals have closely spaced parallel veins.  A green, elongated ovary is topped by a short, light yellow stigma.  Numerous radiating stamens with prominent, elongated yellow anthers encircle the pistil below the ovary.  Petals are shed in one or two days of flower opening, with blooms in a colony lasting about a week.

Photo 3Photo 3:  Bloodroot flowers open near the ground while leaves are still growing.

Photo 4Photo 4:  Flowers of bloodroot may vary in appearance.

Flowers are pollinated by small bees and flies feeding on pollen.  After fertilization, the supporting stalk for the ovary continues to grow but becomes hidden by the growing leaves.  The ovary becomes an elongated, round, green, two-part seed capsule pointed at both ends.  Capsules’ stalks are about 3-8 inches long and capsules are about 1-2 inches long.  Ten to 16 dark seeds are ejected from dry capsules.  Dispersed seeds have an attached external fleshy organ called an “elaiosome”.  Seeds may germinate in the duff where they fall from the capsules or may be planted by ants (myrmecochory**) some distance away.

Photo 5Photo 5:  Note discarded flower parts in lower left and developing capsules.

Bloodroot is a nice plant for a garden or for naturalized areas that have deciduous tree shade and moist rich soil.  The large, early and showy flowers and large distinctive leaves are very attractive.   The plant readily self-seeds in favorable sites and could become too numerous in smaller gardens unless seed capsules are removed shortly after flowers bloom.  Plant parts are toxic if ingested, and sap should not be used for body paint due to its escharotic effects (kills skin cells).

*  Native Americans used red puccoon (bloodroot) and yellow puccoon (goldenseal) for dyes and treatments for various health issues.  Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) has yellowish sap.

**  Myrmecochory:  Word from Greek for “ant” and “dispersal”.  For bloodroot and other plants (spring beauty, violets, trillium, etc), an elaiosme (a fleshy structure) is attached to seeds.  Ants carry the seeds into their nests where elaiosomes are eaten.  Seeds are then moved to waste disposal areas where germination may occur.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

Terms of Use

Posted in Know Your Natives, Native Plants, Wildflowers | Tagged , , ,

Know Your Natives: Coralberry

Coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus) of the Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle) Family occurs in the U.S. from Texas to South Dakota and Minnesota, eastward to central New England and southward, though it is infrequent to absent throughout much of the East Gulf Coastal and Southern Atlantic Coastal Plains.  In Arkansas it occurs primarily in the northwestern half of the state in the Interior Highlands, with widely scattered occurrences in the West Gulf Coastal and Mississippi Alluvial Plains.  Habitats include moist (but well-drained) to dry woodland openings and borders in partial to full sun, in loamy to sandy soils.  Other common names for coralberry include “Indian currant” as well as “buckbrush” and “devil’s shoelaces” (the latter two names are also applied to other, unrelated species).  The name of the genus is derived from Greek, meaning “closely grouped fruit”.  Coralberry is the only species in the genus occurring in Arkansas.

Coralberry is a deciduous shrub two to four feet tall with arching branches and several main stems.  It can eventually form a rounded, much-branched habit, especially if open-grown in ample light and with little crowding from other plants.  Young branches in the spring are spindly, brownish green and variably hairy.  With age, though, the branches develop exfoliating bark.  Mature branches and main stems are rough and scaly.  Although coralberry’s leaves are opposite, the previous years’ branches are not noticeably opposite since branches only grow from nodes facing sunlight.  This growth pattern gives the shrub its arching appearance, accented too by the current year’s long, weaker branches which droop loosely.

Photo 1

Photo 1:  Spring growth of an open-grown coralberry plant in a garden setting.  Note a few of the previous year’s berries still remaining on the bush.

Photo 2

Photo 2:  Segments of coralberry stems of various ages.  Leaves and fruits occur on the youngest twigs. Young to medium-aged branches tend to exfoliate.  Older stems and branches are rough and scaly.

Once a coralberry plant is established, it produces runners from the base of its main stems which grow horizontally in or just above the duff (leaf litter) layer.  New plants form at ends of the runners and, occasionally, along the runners.  Runners, from 1′ to 8′ long, become woody and remain connected to the parent plant even after new offset plants are firmly established.  Dense clonal thickets of these runners and offset plants can form, wherein a person can be easily tripped (hence one of the common names, devil’s shoelaces, in reference to the runners).

Coralberry’s opposite, entire leaves, up to 2″ long and 1¼” wide, are oval to elliptic with turned-down margins and pinnate venation.  The leaves, on ¼” petioles, have a medium green upper surface and light green lower surface.  Upper leaf surfaces are hairless to slightly hairy while lower surfaces are slightly hairy to very hairy.  Leaf tips and bases taper equally.  Some leaves persist on the stems into winter, even after freezes.

Photo 3

Photo 3:  Coralberry inflorescence clusters growing from leaf axils on current year’s twigs.  Note flower buds (white arrow), calyces (red arrow) and developing ovaries/fruits (yellow arrow).  Also note pinnate leaf venation.

Sessile, densely spaced, bell-shaped flowers occur in short spikes in leaf axils on current year’s new branches.  The flowers are light green to rosy tinged.  The ¼” long flowers have a short five-lobed tubular corolla, five stamens, a short green calyx with five teeth, and an inferior, pale green ovary.  Flowers develop and mature simultaneously all around the shrub.  Many flowers on a spike do not develop into full-size fruits, but are still retained on the spike.

Fruit development occurs over several months, with fruit maturing in late fall as plump, rounded to oddly shaped, ¼” purplish red berry-like drupes (stone fruits).  Maturing fruit clusters consist of tightly packed drupes that surround the leaf bases.  The fruit pulp is whitish and rather dry, with two small, tan stones per fruit, each slightly convex on one side.  Fruit may be retained on the plant well into the following spring.

Photo 4

Photo 4:  Mature, fully-developed fruits of coralberry along with some “berries” that have not fully developed.

Coralberry, which is shallow-rooted, can be managed as a single specimen shrub in a garden setting by frequently pruning runners.  Along with its attractive, rounded, compact growth habit, its winter-long purplish red fruit provides a nice visual accent in the otherwise drab season.  For naturalizing in a woodland understory or for erosion control, it can be allowed to send out runners and form colonies.  The flowers attract bees, wasps and flies.  Clearwing moth larvae will eat coralberry leaves.  Leaves may be eaten by deer (thus another common name: buckbrush) and fruit may be eaten by various birds, but it apparently is not necessarily a preferred food choice for either.  Coralberry colonies are used by near-ground-nesting birds and by small mammals for cover.

Photo 5

Photo 5:  A well-fruited coralberry shrub growing in a garden setting.  Runners have been removed.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

Terms of Use

Posted in Know Your Natives, Native Plants, Shrubs, Wildflowers | Tagged , ,

Know Your Natives – American Bluehearts

American Bluehearts

Buchnera americana, commonly known as American Bluehearts, is a species in the Broomrape (Orobanchaceae) family. It is found in prairies, glades, moist areas, wet depressions, and open woods. It favors high quality habitats.

It is found in widely scattered counties across Arkansas. Outside of Arkansas it is found in the south-central states, along the Gulf and southern Atlantic Coasts and in Florida.

American Bluehearts - Buchnera americana

Closeup of the flowers

American Bluehearts are hemi-parasites. They are able to parasitize a wide variety of woody and non-woody plants or none if necessary. We know they can parasitize a range of trees, from oaks to pines to cottonwoods.

American Bluehearts - Buchnera americana

The flowers are held at the top of a slender inflorescence roughly 16 to 30 inches tall

Bloom time is summer and early to mid fall in Arkansas. The species is fire-dependent for seed germination and growth.

Fruit of American Bluehearts - Buchnera americana

Immature fruit

Article and photographs by ANPS member Eric Hunt

Terms of Use

Posted in Know Your Natives, Native Plants, Wildflowers | Tagged , , , ,