Reproduction & Interactions
Bloodroot has been used by humans throughout history as a dye and medication for a variety of things. Currently, it is being researched and tested as a cancer treatment and to help fight off oral plaque forming organisms. However, if used improperly, it can be deadly to humans. Bloodroot can cause diseases such as dropsy and glaucoma, and causes vomiting, fainting, burning sensations on the skin, heart problems etc. On the bright side, bloodroot is considered a Non-timber forest product (NTFP), which are harvested and provide income for millions of people all over the world.
In nature, bloodroot interacts with other organisms in a variety of ways. Various types of bumblebee’s, flies and beetles feed on the pollen; however, it doesn’t have any nectar. These insects can pollinate bloodroot, but if it isn’t pollinated within a three-day window, it self-pollinates. The benefit of having insects like bees pollinate the flower, is that it makes sure bloodroot has genetic diversity within the population. After it is pollinated, two-part elongated seed capsules form, containing a row of about 10-15 seeds in each half. When ripe, this bursts open, which scatters the seeds up to ten feet away, so the seeds can then be dispersed. The seeds contain an elaisome, which attracts ants, like the black carpenter ant, because of its nutritious tissues. The ants take the seeds back to their homes, eat the elaisome, and then dispose of the rest of the seed. These seeds are typically disposed of in refuse tunnels, which have high amounts of the compounds that are ideal for seeds to grow in. Those compounds include organic matter, phosphorus, potassium, and nitrogen. This is a mutualistic relationship between the ant and bloodroot. It benefits the plant because the seeds get dispersed, and it benefits the ant because it gets the nutrients that it needs. It is also important to note that trees provide shade, which is a necessary element for bloodroot to have.
On the other hand, slugs can harm bloodroot. This typically occurs when during damp seasons or when there are heavy layers of mulch. Slugs are not the only animals that harm bloodroot, as deer, groundhogs and turkeys use bloodroot as a food source. However, because of the bitter taste, these animals tend to stray away from bloodroot unless there isn't much of an option. This is beneficial since eating too much of it could cause death. If animals do consume too much bloodroot, the animal cells are killed by blocking the action of NA+/K+-ATPase transmembrane proteins. Diseases such as Alternaria leaf blight, Botrytis, and root rot can also harm bloodroot. These diseases target the growth of the root and seeds so that the plant isn’t healthy and it doesn’t have seeds to disperse.