Starting in May, that flash of yellow along the sunnier parts of the trails is likely to be celandine (Chelidonium majus), officially known as greater celandine, but also called swallow-wort.  The Ware Pond area is a good place to find them.

Most gardeners are familiar with celandine.  They spend a lot of time trying to eradicate it from the garden, just to have it pop back up the following spring.  Luckily it’s easy to pull.  It is considered an aggressive invasive plant in parts of North America.  Originally it grew in North Africa, Europe, and western Asia but is quite at home in Massachusetts.

Celandine has bright yellow 4-petal flowers, often with 4 flowers in a group on a stem.  The leaf is bright green, lobed, with a wavy edge.  The plant grows as tall as 12 to 40 inches here.  Kids (and their parents!) know that if you break the stems, a yellow to orange sap will leak out and stain your hands.

The names celandine and Chelidonium have a long history, traveling from ancient Greek, where it meant “swallow”, to Latin, to English.  Early writers reported that the plants bloomed from the time the swallows returned in spring until they left in fall.  

Since ancient Greek times, herbalists have prepared celandine in tinctures or as tea to help detoxification, toothache, eye problems, indigestion, and skin inflammation.    However all parts of the plant contain a wide variety of alkaloids that are toxic even in moderate amounts.  

Like skunk cabbage with its reliance on flies to pollinate its flowers, celandine relies on ants to plant its seeds to best advantage.  Celandine seeds have a special coating of fat and protein that attracts ants.  Ants take the seeds into their nests underground to feed the coating to their larvae.  The seeds are discarded by the ants into their rubbish dumps, along with their waste, dead ants, and other nutrient-rich discards, and then the seeds germinate in these rich, protected sites.   This mutual advantage gives celandine a leg-up on spreading.  No wonder gardeners are always weeding celandine!