Greater Celandine


My last post was about Lesser Celandine, so this post will be about Greater Celandine (Chelidonium majus).  As is so often true of common names, they are misleading as these two plants are not related.  Greater Celandine is in the poppy family, while Lesser Celandine is in the buttercup family.  In fact, Greater Celandine is more closely related to bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), a native plant which is found commonly in the Pennypack Preserve in spring.  I added a picture of bloodroot at the bottom of the post.  Note the similarity of the leaves.

Greater Celandine is a non-native originating in Europe and Asia.  It’s genus name Chelidonium is from the greek “chelidon” or swallow (the bird), since the blooming of the flower was thought to herald the return of swallows to Greece.  It blooms in May (after our tree swallows arrive) and may last into August.  Although it is invasive, and found widely in the Preserve at wood edges and open spaces. it does not aggressively dominate the ground in the same way that Lesser Celandine does.

Greater Celandine is pollinated by insects or may self-pollinate.  In this close up of the flowers, the stamens (pollen-producing structures) are present on some of the flowers.  The closest flower has been fertilized and has lost the stamens.  It is showing elongation of the pistil which contains the ovary.  Eventually the pistil will elongate into a seed pod.  One seed pod can be seen directly behind this flower, and two more are toward its right.  The pods contain multiple seeds each of which contains an interesting structure known as an elaiosome.  This is a lipid and protein-rich structure attached to the seed which attracts ants.  The ants take the seeds to their nest and feed the elaisosomes to the larvae.  They then dispose of the seeds which germinate, having been dispersed far from the plant by the ants.  The interesting term “myrmecochory” is used to describe this.

Greater Celandine is used in herbal medicine (which I am not recommending) because it contains a variety of isoquinoline alkaloids.  Whatever dubious uses this may have in herbal medicine, the advantage to the plant is that the presence of these alkaloids likely deters deer from eating them.  As I noted in a previous post, most wildflowers which are abundant in the Pennypack Preserve are deer-resistant.  This also includes Greater Celandine’s relative, bloodroot, shown below.  Compare the shape of the leaves on the Celandine and bloodroot.

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