The spring ephemeral wildflowers are starting to bloom here in the Ozarks. This includes toothwort, rue anemone, false rue anemone and Johnny Jump Ups. The first blue violets and wood violets are blooming too.
Cardamine concatenata O. Schwarz
March to May N Family: Brassicaceae
Flower: The stem tip puts out many flower buds. Each flower is on a stalk and has a cup of green sepals with pink tips. The flower stays in a tube to the top of the sepals then the four white to pink petals flare open. Five or six stamens surrounding a pistil stick out of the central tube.
Leaf: The leaves form a single whorl with three leaves going off the stem. Each leaf is split into three long narrow lobes. The two outside lobes may split into two lobes and the central lobe may split into three lobes. Each lobe is toothed at intervals.
Stem: Single unbranched stems can grow a little over a foot tall. The stems are covered with short hairs.
Root: The perennial root is a series of tuberous swellings connected by thinner roots forming a rhizome.
Fruit: The seed pod is almost two inches long but barely an eighth of an inch in diameter. The seeds are lined up in the pods.
Habitat: This plant likes open woods but likes it moist. It is commonly found in bottomland forests and ravines.
Edibility: The tuberous parts of the rhizomes can be eaten in salads or dried and ground. It is spicy.
Toothwort is one of the earliest spring wildflowers to bloom. The plants form little green forests on the forest floor The green turns to pink as the flowers open.
At one time many of the plants didn’t make it to blooming as they became potherbs. The roots were used as a horseradish substitute and toothache remedy.
Although the leaves have teeth, the name toothwort did not refer to these teeth. There are tooth-like projections on the rhizomes and these gave the plant its common name.
In early spring places in the woods and ravines seem to be covered with toothwort. The sunny forest floor turns pink when the plants bloom. The trees leaf out as the plants are finishing making seeds. A short time later the plants have vanished even though summer has barely begun.
The plant has scattered seeds to start new plants and replaced the starch in its roots and rhizomes so it can bloom in the next spring. So the plant goes dormant avoiding heat and drought and being in deep shade under summer trees full of leaves.