( Originally Published 1922 )
Bloodroot; Indian Paint; Red Puccoon
Flowers—Pure white, rarely pinkish, golden centred, 1 to 11 in. across, solitary, at end of a smooth, naked scape 6 to 14 in. tall. Calyx of 2 short-lived sepals; corolla of 8 to 12 oblong petals, early falling; stamens numerous; 1 short pistil composed of 2 carpels. Leaves: Rounded, deeply and palmately lobed, the 5 to 9 lobes often cleft. Rootstock: Thick, several inches long, with fibrous roots, and filled with orange-red juice.
Preferred Habitat—Rich woods and borders; low hillsides. Flowering Season—April—May.
Distribution—Nova Scotia to Florida, westward to Nebraska.
Snugly protected in a papery sheath enfolding a silvery-green leaf-cloak, the solitary erect bud slowly rises from its embrace, sheds its sepals, expands into an immaculate golden-centred blossom that, poppy-like, offers but a glimpse of its fleeting loveliness ere it drops its snow-white petals and is gone. But were the flowers less ephemeral, were we always certain of hitting upon the very time its colonies are starring the woodland, would it have so great a charm? Here to-day, if there comes a sudden burst of warm sunshine; gone to-morrow, if the spring winds, rushing through the nearly leafless woods, are too rude to the fragile petals—no blossom has a more evanescent beauty, none is more lovely. After its charms have been displayed, up rises the circular leaf-cloak on its smooth reddish petiole, unrolls, and at length overtops the narrow, oblong seed-vessel. Wound the plant in any part, and there flows an orange-red juice, which old-fashioned mothers used to drop on lumps of sugar and administer when their children had coughs and colds. As this fluid stains whatever it touches—hence its value to the Indians as a war-paint--one should be careful in picking the flower. It has no value for cutting, of course; but in some rich, shady corner of the garden, a clump of the plants will thrive and bring a suggestive picture of the spring woods to our very doors. It will be noticed that plants having thick rootstock, corms, and bulbs, which store up food during the winter, like the irises, Solomon's seals, bloodroot, adder's tongue, and crocuses, are pre-pared to rush into blossom far earlier in spring than fibrous-rooted species that must accumulate nourishment after the season has opened.
Greater Celandine; Swallow-wort
Flowers—Lustreless yellow, about in. across, on slender pedicels, in a small umbel-like cluster. Sepals 2, soon falling; 4 petals, many yellow stamens, pistil prominent. Stem: Weak, 1 to 2 ft. high, branching, slightly hairy, containing bright orange acrid juice. Leaves: Thin, 4 to 8 in. long, deeply cleft into 5 (usually) irregular oval lobes, the terminal one largest. Fruit: Smooth, slender, erect pods, 1 to 2 in. long, tipped with the persistent style.
Preferred Habitat—Dry waste land, fields, roadsides, gar_ dens, near dwellings.
Flowering Season—April—September. Distribution—Naturalized from Europe in eastern United States.
Not this weak invader of our roadsides, whose four yellow petals suggest one of the cross-bearing mustard tribe, but the pert little Lesser Celandine, Pilewort, or Figwort Buttercup (Ficaria Ficaria), one of the crow-foot family, whose larger solitary satiny yellow flowers so commonly star European pastures, was Wordsworth's special delight—a tiny, turf-loving plant, about which much poetical association clusters. Having stolen pas-sage across the Atlantic, it is now making itself at home about College Point, Long Island; on Staten Island; near Philadelphia, and maybe elsewhere. Doubtless it will one day overrun our fields, as so many other European immigrants have done.
The generic Greek name of the greater celandine, meaning a swallow, was given it because it begins to bloom when the first returning swallows are seen skimming over the water and freshly ploughed fields in a perfect ecstasy of flight, and continues in flower among its erect seed capsules until the first cool days of autumn kill the gnats and small winged insects not driven to cover. Then the swallows, dependent on such fare, must go to warmer climes where plenty still fly. Quaint old Gerarde claims that the Swallow-wort was so called because "with this herbe the dams restore eye-sight to their young ones when their eye be put out" by swallows. Coles asserts "the swallow cureth her dim eyes with Celandine."