Sunday, April 26, 2015

Ephemeral Seasons

In the wildflower garden at Baltimore Woods, NY.
Here in the Finger Lakes region our seasons are ephemeral (some may say our winters are not!) and so are many of the native plants that thrive in the woods. Spring wildflowers such as bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) are only here for a short stay. They come to life when the deciduous trees haven't leafed out and there is enough sun to reach the forest floor. Bloodroot is considered threatened and endangered in some places in the Northeast. This delicate flower's seeds are spread by ants. It has a brief life. It will only flower for a few days and then die. The leaves of the plants may last a little while longer but they too eventually return to the soil to wait until next spring.

Bloodroot has an interesting history. It gets its common name from the red root of the plant that was once used by Native Americans as a dye. It also has many medicinal uses, well know by Native Americans and discovered by the colonists. It was once used as a tonic, cough medicine, and the mashed roots were used as a skin ointment.

I mention bloodroot and some other spring wildflowers in my latest novel: Imaginary Brightness: a Durant Family Saga. Because the main storyline is set in the Adirondacks I wanted to include local lore about the woods. Although my editor told me to simmer it down a bit (this is not a forum to educate about the environment!) I threw in as many tidbits as I could. Indeed, the natives in the region, called the Algonquins, and then later the Mohawks, and other tribes that traversed through the Adirondacks, used many of the wild plants and especially tree parts such as bark for their tinctures, sweeteners, and food. I decided that since I was writing about history, the plants had their place in the story as well.

View of the sky in Baltimore Woods on a spring day.

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