The Forest Floor
Part I - Catching Light!
There is a very special time each year where magic happens on the forest floor. When the ground starts to warm, but the trees have not yet leafed out, some plants emerge and blossom before all of the others. We call them the spring ephemerals! These plants take advantage of all of the sunlight and go through much of their life cycle before the woods grow shady - putting out leaves, flowers, going to seed, and sometimes their leaves even die back, returning the plants to just their underground parts before summer.
The ephemerals do not have an easy task! The soil is usually still cool which makes it hard for them to absorb water and nutrients, and there is still a chance of frost. So spring ephemerals usually grow in rich, healthy soil, where there is plenty of food for them. Some also often form special relationships with fungi under the ground, which help them access soil nutrients through their roots.
Bloodroot is a very beautiful spring ephemeral with delicate white flowers and one big green puzzle-piece shaped leaf. (Did you notice that the Plant Guardian’s wings looked just like a bloodroot leaf?) Bloodroot blossoms open in the morning and close at night, and their flowers last for only one to three days!
Bloodroot is named for its deep red colored root, which is poisonous if taken internally. It is best to leave the roots alone, and to wash your hands if the root is touched.
Bees, ants, wasps and beetles are pollinators that visit Bloodroot flowers. Since they have only a few days to be pollinated, they can self pollinate if they miss the chance! There is a very special relationship between Bloodroot and native ants that allows their seeds to sprout. Bloodroot seeds have a handle on them called an elaiosome that the ants use to carry the seeds back to their colony. This eliasome is high in fat and sugar, which the ants love to eat. When they are finished, ants drop the seed in their waste tunnel, which is basically a compost pile full of nutrients and protected from predators. This is the perfect place for the baby Bloodroot to grow!
Watch where you step!
Many spring ephemerals take a long time to grow. Bloodroot can take 3 years to grow their first flower. Wood Anemones don’t flower until they are 5 years old, and trilliums take from 5 to 7 years! So it is best to admire these flowers from a distance, being careful not to compact the soil around them and definitely not picking them!
Ready for adventure?
It’s time for you to take a journey in the verdant realm of plants! Go hunting for green growing beings all around your home - notice as much as you can about them all and pay as much attention to the teeny tiny ones growing in cracks as any big showy plants you find! Draw ones you find interesting on your map!
Did you notice that many of the plants Jane and Sir Malcolm found had names that perfectly described them? Even though Bloodroot already has a pretty good name, Malcolm called it by his own nickname at the end of the movie - Puzzle Leaf Pretty Bloom. Making up nicknames is a great way to remember plants when you are first getting to know them. Why don’t you find 3 plants around your home that you don’t know the name of and make up one of your own!