“Hurry up and wait.” The phrase that epitomizes life in the military or any other large, bureaucratic, organization, applies surprisingly well to bloodroot and similar ephemeral wildflowers. Each year these plants race to flower as early as possible to assure sufficient time for fruits to ripen and seeds to mature while sunshine is abundant at the forest floor, for all too soon the forest floor will be draped in shadows cast by the trees’ leafy canopy. Ephemerals do everything quickly: sprout, grow, flower, disperse seeds, and re-enter dormancy. But flowering in very early spring can be risky. Some days will be fair and pleasant, but just as surely other days will be cool and drizzly, making successful pollination by insect visitors uncertain. In general terms, plant ecologists have proposed that self-pollination (autogamy) should be common in plants that bloom under unpredictably variable conditions. In fact, some ecological studies have concluded that bloodroot is autogamous (e.g., Schemske 1978). Bloodroots are, or can be, autogamous, but the full story is a bit more complicated.

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Copyright © 2005, Virginia Native Plant Society. This article first appeared in Bulletin of the Virginia Native Plant Society 24:1 (2005), 5, 6.

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