The Audacity of Bloodroot
To Bloom on the Eve of a Snowfall
I suppose all flowers are audacious. After all, they broadcast and beckon to the winds and winged. But the flower of Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) acts out a game of hide and seek at the intersection of winter and spring.
To be sure, most of nature now dances at this crossroads. The early warbler claims the breeding territory, but might also fly into a Nor’easter. Our first spring butterflies find mates, but little by way of nectar. We ourselves aren’t dissimilar: we plant our vegetable seedlings at risk of killing frosts — an act of ambition and hope.
Bloodroot knows nothing of hope. Like many plants, its flower is supple and sensitive, opening to pollinators by the warmth and light of day, and sealing up in the cold or at night. Botanists call these rhythms nyctinasty.
Yet bloodroot, in the antics of its flower, seems to express both tenacity and trepidation. Unlike Hepatica or Coltsfoot, for example, whose early flowers emerge naked and alone, Bloodroot does a springtime dance with its one and only leaf, which embraces the blossom for a while like a parent.
Anyone who knows me knows of my exuberance for Bloodroot (named for the reddish liquid alkaloid in its rhizomes). And it would be easy — and a predictable brand of nature writing — for me to tell you that this plant, so early to bloom in our woods, offers us an expression of hope in springtime.
Yeah, okay, maybe it’s that. But more than anything, I just like the way this flower and leaf go about their business in April. And I like the grace of those petals once the flower is in full bloom, which stays that way for but a few days. Even a gentle rain can send those pearly petals fluttering the short distance to earth.
On Saturday (25 April 2020), I photographed Bloodroot flowers (pictured below) at various stages of “emergence” in hardwoods here in Montpelier, Vermont. Tentative? Tenacious? Elegant? All of the above.
Audacious? Oh, yeah. Snow in the forecast here tonight.
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