Garden Bloodroot Disperses

by Carl Strang

I have planted 3 bloodroots in my shaded garden flowerbed. They are the earliest of my native plants to flower each year, and all have multiplied by root expansion. This year they demonstrated their fecundity in a different way. A fourth plant, growing several feet beyond the nearest established bloodroot, has matured enough to flower.

I had noticed leaves here the past year or two.

I would not have planted a bloodroot up against the edging like this, but it’s not an unreasonable place for an ant colony to do so. Ants are the main dispersers of bloodroot seeds, as well as those of a number of other plant species that bloom in our forests in early spring. Their seeds tempt the ants with fatty outgrowths called elaiosomes. Using these as handles, ants carry them to their nests. After consuming the elaiosomes the ants discard the useless (to them) seeds, having conveniently (for the plant) carried them into the protective soil.

This is very satisfying. Mine is not a hands-off garden. I have to work diligently, for example, to constrain the zig-zag goldenrods. But in this case I welcome the ants’ partnership, and look forward to watching the expansion of this newest bloodroot colony.

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2 Comments

  1. Kelli Parke said,

    December 6, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    Dear Carl,

    Hope you are well! Hard to think of flowers in the begining of winter…

    Where do you go to find information about spring flowers like you have here on Blood Root?

    Thanks,
    Kelli

    • natureinquiries said,

      December 7, 2011 at 6:53 am

      Hi, Kelli,
      That comes from following the scientific literature. A series of papers on ant-dispersed spring ephemeral plants came out a long time ago. 1980’s, maybe, I think in ecological journals. If you want more information on this you could try a search on the term “myrmecochory.”
      Regards,
      Carl


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