Spring must finally be here! It’s March 21 and I’ve just seen the first Bloodroots of the year. For 2 weeks, I’ve been impatiently searching for their first blooms. They are a powerful antidote to winter’s malaise. When I first see the Bloodroots each spring, a smile spreads through my whole being. To me, they are that powerful.
Latin Name/Common Name- Sanguinaria Canadensis– The word sanguinaria is from the latin -sanguis- which means blood. This refers to the red juice that oozes from the rhizome or stem if broken. The juice will stain and has a long history of being used as a dye by Native Americans. I’ve also read that it can cause a reaction similar to poison ivy, so best to be avoided. The common name, Bloodroot, is pretty obvious–breaking the root causes it to “bleed”.
Bloom Color- The petals are snow white with yellow stamens. The bloom is big for the tiny plant, about 1.5 inches across. The flowers really pop among the brown leaves on the forest floor. There’s not much else in bloom and seeing the Bloodroots will take your breath away. Take a look–aren’t they gorgeous?
Description- The leaf tip emerges from the ground all wrapped up in a tight curl. Inside the wrap, protected by the leaf, is the flower bud.
Bloodroots are easy to identify. When in bloom, there’s nothing else as bright white and pretty on the forest floor.
Snow white petals contrasted with scattered oak leaves
After blooming, Sanguinaria canadensis continues to stand out just as much, if not more because of her huge, unique leaf. The leaf is multi-lobed, deeply veined and continues to enlarge after the bloom falls. It can get as broad as 8 inches across.
The seed pod grows on the flower stalk being held above the leaf. You won’t see anything else like it. Bloodroots tend to grow in colonies and in April, I can see hundreds of these large, fascinating leaves among the rocks. I think the leaves after the bloom time are really as beautiful as the flower in bloom. The leaves will gradually return die back to the soil and disappear by mid summer.
Please don’t dig the wild plants! They have been excessively harvested by enthusiasts who may not have understood the harm they were doing. Instead, purchase plants from a reputable nursery that has propagated them or harvested the seeds. You can grow them yourself from seed.
Just a week or two after the flower petals fall, the seed pod will be noticeable on top of the stalk (as you saw in the picture above). In about a month, the seeds will be mature. Each pod will contain about 25 seeds which will be brown if mature. The trick is to catch them just before the seed pod bursts and scatters seeds everywhere. In a large colony, you will be able to find some that have not burst. The seeds don’t store and should be planted immediately about a half inch deep in a good seed starting medium.
Bloom time– On Ozarkedge, the Bloodroot usually start blooming in mid March. In mild winters, they may be seen as early as late February. The blooming period often extends into early April. The flowers on any individual plant don’t last long. I’ve read that they only last one day, but, I’ve seen this isn’t really true. A flower will last several days unless there is strong wind or rain. Even though the blooms are fleeting on an individual plant, there will be some flowers in the colony blooming for about 4 weeks from their start.
Habitat– Sanguinaria canadensis is typically found on slopes of moist, rocky woods. On Ozarkedge, I first found them in the open woods on north and west facing slopes near the lake. They seem to especially like rocky sites. Here’s an example of one growing up against the rocks.
What’s Growing Nearby?- I’ve found that when I see Bloodroot growing on Ozark’s Edge, other spring ephemerals will be nearby. Please see below.
Trillium recurvatum Ranunculus hispidus Erythronium albidum
Dicentra cucullaria Corydalis flavula Thalictrum thalictroides
Interesting Tidbits- It seems that there have been a lot of attempts at medicinal uses of Bloodroot in years past. It’s been tried for everything from inducing vomiting to removing the plaque from your teeth. It should NOT be ingested, though, as it not only tastes terrible, it can be toxic!
They are pollinated by various types of bees. The seeds are dispersed by ants.
Endangered List- Sanguinaria Canadensis is listed as Exploitably Vulnerable in New York and Special Concern in Rhode Island on the USDA site.
Natureserve lists Sanguinaria canadensis as Critically imperiled in Texas and Imperiled in Louisiana and Rhode Island. Unfortunately, it us Not Ranked/Under Review in most states, including Arkansas. The Natureserve mentions that it is declining through much of its range due to habitat conversion and collection from the wild. Disreputable nurseries have been known to collect from the wild and sell as nursery stock–particularly in Tennessee. If you want to purchase plants, please be sure to purchase from nurseries that propagate their own stock. Here’s the link for this information on Natureserve.