Sunday, 2 September 2018

unkraut bleibt unkraut

The other day I was weeding a bit as part of getting our yard prepared for Autumn—a presumptuous task I realise since only so called weeds managed to do any growing at all during the hot and dry summer, and while pruning back one plant that was growing too close towards the foundation, I noticed where the stem broke away from the root (I do that on purpose so I feel I haven’t killed anything) there was a carrot-like bit of meal and there was some orange splotches on my hand from the plant’s latex (Milchsaft—like the fluid in the stems of dandelions).  Afterwards, I researched a bit and found that I had come across a bit of Schöllkraut (properly known as the greater celandine, Chelidonium but with some unfortunately English folk names like the nipplewort.
The plants use an interesting though not unique strategy to propagate their seeds called myrmechory, that is in Greek, dispersal by ants, by topping of each seed with a little nutrient morsel that the ants will take back to their nests as food for the growing larvae. Once the larvae have eaten off the coat, the seeds are disposed of in the workers’ burial chambers and benefit from the nutrient-rich environment there. Evolutionary biologists believes one finds this symbiotic relationship in temperate, fertile climates as well—and not just in drier places, because the seeds that the ants bear away are not eaten by other predators and stand a better chance of germinating. Native to Eurasia, it’s considered a bit of a nuisance elsewhere but this plant related to the poppy has some noteworthy pharmacological merits including antimicrobial properties owning to the range of alkaloids it contains, which can be in large amounts toxic to humans and animals as well—especially during the Fall when the chemical is concentrated in the roots. It’s efficacy in traditional medicine as a topical treatment for toothaches, foot odour and skin disorders should be taken with skepticism and any relief is probably due the afore-mention antiseptic properties.