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ORRIN MORRIS: Versatile bloodroot used in toothpaste, dyes

In Genesis 8:22, God is responding to Noah's offering, "While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease."

We have an environment with seasonal cycles that do not change. We depend on these seasons in faith.

Today, we examine a wildflower that blooms very early. Even a late snow does not deter it from its appointed appearance.

BLOODROOT

Sanguinaria canadensis

Bloodroots are among the earliest wildflowers to bloom. They can be found in wooded areas where humus is thick, such as around boulders.

The sap is red and the stem, emerging from the soil, is mauve. The petals are white and vary in number. I've seen some blossoms with as few as five petals and others with 12.

The blossoms rise 4 to 6 inches above the ground and measure 1 to 2 inches in diameter. The pistil and stamen are yellow.

The forest-green leaves remind me of mittens. They form a "cup" to shield the bud from the late-winter cold. On the other hand, when blossoms occur during a warm spell, the leaves open fully, as pictured.

After the petals fall, the leaves remain in an open and horizontal position. Erect, elongated seed pods form atop the stems that were once occupied by the blossoms.

According to Jack Sanders' "Hedgemaids and Fairy Candles, The Lives and Lore of North American Wildflowers," bloodroot has had a long history of medicinal uses taught by Indian medicine men during Colonial days and used by herbalists today. Within the past 30 years, one toothpaste company included it in their product, claiming its protection against plaque is better than fluoride.

Another use is juice from the root to create a reddish-orange dye, once used to color fabric.

The brilliance of the color depended on several factors: the metal of the pot in which it was boiled, the length of time the roots were immersed, and the use of alum (aluminum potassium sulfate) as the fixative. Iron, copper, or aluminum pots affect the final result.

There must have been a lot of bloodroots in colonial times to supply the amount of dye described in those ancient records.

At my place in northern Rockdale County, there may be as many as 50 bloodroot plants. The blossoms are such a joyous announcement of the end of winter that the more plants that survive the happier we are.

As winter passes and spring emerges, may you discover new wildflowers that speak to you of God's love and care. May these discoveries draw you closer to the Lord in the journey through the season of Lent that begins Wednesday, Feb. 13.

Orrin Morris is a retired Baptist minister, local artist and art teacher. This column is included in a two-volume set of books of wildflower columns he has published. To purchase the books, visit the Nature Seen Gallery & Frame Shop, 914 Center St. in Olde Town Conyers.