Plant of the Week
Latin: Sanguinaria canadensis
My favorite flower is a moving target, but this week’s favorite is bloodroot. This
delicate little wild flower is one of the plants that ushers in spring in late winter
and then fades quietly away as the heat of summer arrives.
Bloodroot is aptly named. It has thick rhizomes that are about the size of your finger. When the root is cut, the stem exudes a red sap that looks just like blood. In fact, when I was first given a division of the plant, the playful gardener held up a dirty hand with a stub of root protruding between her fingers and declared "Oh! I’ve cut off my finger!" I must admit I have stolen her line for every plant I’ve given away since then.
This early spring plant is distributed in the eastern states from Canada to East Texas where it grows in moist, open woods. It typically is found in Arkansas on north slopes where the heat of summer is delayed as long as possible. It appears as a single stem protruding from the leaf litter with the flower bud encircled in the rolled leaf like a Mexican chalupa protecting refried beans. The white flower is about two inches across with from eight to 10 petals.
Numerous yellow stamens crowd the center of the flower. The blooms only last a few days but when they appear they are like a late spring snow blanketing the ground.
There is only one leaf per flower. The gray-green leaf grows about six inches above the ground and is a curious affair with an overall round shape with deep rounded lobes. The leaves die down after the seeds are dispersed in early summer.
Bloodroot is a member of the poppy family and is listed as a poisonous plant, even though no reports of human or animal poisoning have been reported in the United States. The toxic principle is an acrid alkaloid called sanguinarine An extract from the roots was used in various herbal remedies in bygone days and was even tested as an anti-cancer drug. The American Indians called the plant red puccoon and used the juice from the roots for war paint.
No woodland garden is complete without a bloodroot colony. Site the plants in a scattered planting where the roots will not be disturbed and pretty much forget them. They will continue to flower and produce seed every year, increasing the size of the colony each year. For the real plant collector, a double flowered form is available which has blooms that look like a miniature waterlily. The plant seems immune to inset and disease attack if well situated in the shade garden.
By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension Horticulturist - Ornamentals
Extension News - March 31, 2000
The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.