Sunday, March 17, 2013
Where once one grew, its milk-white bud glowing in the gloom of the forest, now five cluster. Frail beauties they seem to be, their petals soon to be torn away by the winds of spring, but few other plants outside of the evergreen tribe dare to be awake this time of the year.
My book tells me that this precocious plant with the unlovely name of bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) resides in the Poppy family, Papaveracea. Poppies are a potent clan, rivaling perhaps only Solanaceae (think tobacco) and Apiaceae (think poison hemlock) in their possession of potent alkaloids.
My book also tells me that Papaveraceae haunts mainly the Northern hemisphere -- which I find interesting ...
... It means that the prototype of the family diverged from its closest ancestor after Gondwanaland (the jigsaw puzzle of Earth's continents) broke up, with the infamous opium poppies colonizing Eurasia while lesser known bloodroot spread through Eastern North America.
Nature inspires so many questions but she keeps her secrets well. Where do you fit into the story of evolution, little bloodroot flower? Why was it advantageous for you here in Eastern America to bloom in palest white whilst your West Coast sisters dress in gold and your Old World kin wear deepest crimson?
You are plants adapted to the harsh continental winters, unfazed by chilly springs but retiring before the blistering heat of summer. You are no lovers of tropical lands. Were your days of greatest glory our Ice Age -- did our first human ancestors look out of their caves to gaze in awe upon fields of your blooms?