This section is from the book "Nature's Garden", by Neltje Blanchan. Also available from Amazon: Nature's Garden; An Aid To Knowledge Of Our Wild Flowers And Their Insect Visitors.
Flowers - White, about 1/2 in. across, in a terminal loose cluster, the formation of each similar to that of bulbous cress. Stem: 8 to 15 in. high. Rootstock: Long, crinkled, toothed, fleshy, crisp, edible. Leaves: 2, opposite or nearly so, on the stem, compounded of 3 ovate and toothed leaflets; also larger, broader leaves on larger petioles from the rootstock. Fruit: Flat, lance-shaped pods, 1 in. long or over, tipped with the slender style.
Flowering Season - May.
Distribution - Nova Scotia to the Carolinas, west to the Mississippi.
Clusters of these pretty, white, cross-shaped flowers, found near the bloodroot, claytonia, anemones, and a host of other delicate spring blossoms, enter into a short but fierce competition with them for the visits of the small Andrena and Halictus bees then flying to collect nectar and pollen for a generation still unborn. In tunnels underground, or in soft, partially decayed wood, each busy little mother places the pellets of pollen and nectar paste, then when her eggs have been laid on the food supply in separate nurseries and sealed up, she dies from exhaustion, leaving her grub progeny to eat its way through the larva into the chrysalis state, and finally into that of a winged bee that flies away to liberty. These are the little bees so constantly seen about willow catkins.
Country children, on their way to school through the woods, often dig up the curious, long crisp root of the toothwort, which tastes much like the water-cress, to eat with their sandwiches at the noon recess. Then, as they examine the little pointed projections on the rootstock, they see why the plant received its name.
Another toothwort found throughout a similar range, the Cut-leaved species, or Pepper-root (D. laciniata), has its equally edible rootstock scarcely toothed, but rather constricted in places, giving its little tubers the appearance of beads strung into a necklace. Its white or pale purplish-pink cross-shaped flowers, loosely clustered at the end of an unbranched stem, rise by preference above moist ground in rich woods, often beside a spring, from April to June - a longer season for wooing and working its insect friends than the two-leaved toothwort has attained to - hence it is the commoner plant. Instead of having two leaves on its stem, this species spreads whorls of three leaves, thrice divided, almost to the base, the divisions toothed or lobed, and the side ones sometimes deeply cleft. The larger, longer petioled leaves that rise directly from the rootstock have scarcely developed at flowering time.