Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Nature Watch

By Susan Thurn,
Cable Natural History Museum

I saw it from across the yard. A small, white flower that I know wasn’t flowering there last spring. I stopped mowing my yard several years ago, and all of the native grasses and plants have moved in, keeping a different kind of landscaped space, one that is still a low-growing lawn only a few inches tall, and a lot more interesting. I never know what is going to pop up next. I have explored it all, and know where my barren strawberry, trillium, bunchberry, and hepatica are located. This, however, was a most exciting discovery in my own back yard – a bloodroot plant.

How did this bloodroot come into my yard from nowhere? Perhaps I can thank the ants. Bloodroot has a part called an elaiosome that attracts ants. The ants bring the seeds to their nests, where they eat the elaiosomes. They then leave the seeds in their underground waste storage areas, where the seeds are stored until they can germinate in a bed of nutrient rich ant waste.

Bloodroots have up to twelve delicate petals with a striking inner yellow color. The flower blooms before the leaves unfold. The one plant in my yard could likely become a large colony over many years.

The bloodroot plant has a very interesting folklore history. Bloodroot is named for its orange colored rhizome growing under the surface of the soil. It was used by Native Americans as a dye and herbal remedy made from the red-colored sap. It has been used to promote healthy marriages and families. It has also been used as an anti-plaque or anti-bacterial substance in toothpaste and mouthwashes, but can actually destroy skin tissues.

The smile on my face upon finding this bloodroot plant was a mile wide. We sometimes feel a special connection to a family member, our pets, or a special animal. For me, today I had a special closeness to a bloodroot plant, in my own back yard. It is just one of spring’s delights we can enjoy in our north woods.

For over 44 years, the Museum has served as a guide and mentor to generations of visitors and residents interested in learning to better appreciate and care for the extraordinary natural resources of the region. The Museum invites you to visit its facility in Cable at 13470 County Highway M. The new exhibit, The Joy of Birds: Feathers in Focus opens in May, 2011. Find us on the web at to learn more about our exhibits and programs. Also discover us on the web at, on Facebook, or at our blogspot, to learn more about our exhibits and programs.

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