By: Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden
If you’re lucky enough to have some on your property or know of someone else who does, you may want to consider growing a bloodroot plant in the garden. They make excellent additions to woodland or partially shaded gardens. Learning how to grow bloodroot is not complicated, and once established in the landscape, bloodroot plant care is simple.
Bloodroot plants are early spring bloomers and may be found growing wild in dappled sun in wooded areas, producing beautiful, solitary flowers. These white bloodroot flowers have 8 to 12 petals growing on leafless stems that rise above the foliage of this charming plant.
Bloodroot plants, Sanguinaria canadensis, get their name from the dark red sap found in the stems and roots, which resembles blood. The colored juice from the stems of bloodroot plants can also be used to make red, pink, and orange dyes. You should wear gloves when working with bloodroot plants and practicing bloodroot plant care as leaves and other plant parts are skin irritants to some.
Medicinal usage of bloodroot plants was widespread in centuries past; however, facts about bloodroot plant indicate all parts of the plant are poisonous. Therefore, it is best left to professionals to extract juices and powder from the roots for use in salves. Studies are currently underway using bloodroot as a treatment for cancers of the skin, though bloodroot products are expensive and facts about bloodroot plant indicate it is becoming hard to find and is reaching the point of extinction in some areas of the United States.
As one of the first flowers to appear in spring, bloodroot flowers are at home in the moist, organic soils of the woodlands. Replicate these conditions for successful growth of the plant in the home garden.
Plant bloodroot flowers where they will be shaded by the leaves of deciduous trees after bloom is completed. Collect seeds from bloodroot plants and plant them while they are fresh. Bloodroot seeds mature in mid to late spring and you can place a paper bag over the mature seedpods, giving it a shake, in order to collect the seeds, which will germinate the following spring after planting.
You can also propagate bloodroot flowers from root division at any time. Plant sections of the root ½ to 1 inch (1.5 to 2.5 cm.) deep in an acidic, organic-rich soil in a location with only dappled sun.
To keep the plant from entering dormancy, you should keep the soil moist. In fact, regular watering, twice a week, will allow the leaves to remain throughout much of summer. This can be reduced in fall and winter so it can go dormant.
You can begin feeding your plants with a balanced fertilizer once they have reached their second year of growth.
When this plant is happy in its location, it will colonize and provide many years of flowering.
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Factsheet | HGIC 1190 | Published: Feb 1, 2017 | Print
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) blooms during the early spring in deciduous woods with 3 to 4 inch white flower petals and bright yellow stamens.
Joey Williamson, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is a spring blooming wildflower that is native to the Eastern United States. Typically, this perennial grows in partly sunny sites and in moist to dry, acidic soils of nutrient-rich, deciduous hardwood forests. In South Carolina, it is one of the spring ephemerals (i.e., it has a short life cycle and quickly fades), often appearing in large masses with pure white flowers held inches above the forest floor. Bloodroot is considered common in woodland sites in the Upstate, but uncommon in the sandier soils of the lower half of South Carolina.
Bloodroot is one of the earliest of the native wildflowers to bloom, but unfortunately, the flowers are very short-lived and each may only last for a couple of days. Various small bees and flies collect and spread the pollen from numerous yellow stamens. The flowers produce pollen, but no nectar. Bloodroot flowers typically have 8 to 16 petals, but there are doubles with many more petals, such as the variety S. canadensis f. multiplex ‘Plena’.
Colonies of bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) form as their shallow, reddish rhizomes slowly spread.
Joey Williamson, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension
A solitary leaf clasps each flower stalk, and once the petals fall, the leaf begins to expand. After pollination of the flower has occurred, the ovary (the female portion of the flower in which the seeds will be produced) swells to produce a slender, green capsule that will contain numerous small seeds. At maturity, these round 1/8-inch seeds will become brown to black, each with a white, fleshy structure called an elaiosome. Interestingly, the elaiosomes on the seeds, which are rich in fats and proteins, attract ants. Once the seeds are released from the seed capsules, various ant species will collect the seed to feed the high-energy elaiosomes to their larvae. Then the ants discard the seeds, which aids in the spread of the bloodroot plants. This form of a mutualistic relationship (i.e, where both parties benefit) is termed myrmecochory, which from the Greek means “ant” and “dispersal.”
Some of the flowers of these bloodroot plants (Sanguinaria canadensis) were pollinated the petals have dropped, and seed capsules have formed at the tops of the flower stalks.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension
Bloodroot is a stemless, slowly spreading, rhizomatous plant. When cut, its rhizome (an underground stem) produces a bright red to reddish-orange sap, which has been used both medicinally and for dyes by American Indians. However, caution is advised, as this sap is caustic to the skin and poisonous if ingested.
The gray-green foliage of bloodroot varies somewhat in shape, but they have 5 to 9 lobes on the leaf margins. Because of the variations in leaf shape, one taxonomist proposed there are two naturally occurring varieties. Sanguinaria canadensis var. rotundifolia is the primary form in South Carolina, which has leaves that are less lobed than the more northern variety, S. canadensis var. canadensis.
After flowering, the leaves of bloodroot continue to grow to reach five or more inches in diameter. Once the drier and warmer summer conditions arrive, the leaves will senesce (i.e., they will turn yellow and deteriorate).
Sanguinaria, otherwise known as Bloodroot is a charming plant that is very short-lived. It produces white flowers in springtime and has greyish-green leaves. If grown outdoors, the plant attracts butterflies and ants which help it spread.
The Bloodroot plant prefers shady places with well-drained soil and consistent moisture. When it’s healthy, the plant will spread to form small colonies. During summertime, it goes dormant until the spring to avoid the heat. It’s easy to grow Bloodroot in your backyard garden but it’s recommended to only buy medical-grade capsules or salve for human treatment.
Where to buy Bloodroot products? Here is our list:
Sanguinaria canadensis var. rotundifolia
Bloodroot Bloodworth, Red Root, Red Puccoon
Papaveraceae (Poppy family)
Showy white, bisexual flowers appear in early spring and last only a day or two. Flowering normally occurs in March to April, and in May to June the plant develops cylindrical-teardrop shaped seed pods that ripen and open in July.
S. canadensis is a myrmecochoric plant, meaning its seed dispersal relies primarily on ants carrying away their seed and eating the rich lipid coating (or elaisome).
Bloodroot grows in a large region from Southern Manitoba in Canada to Southeastern Texas, and from South Dakota to the Atlantic Ocean. It is found in every state, except for Alaska, Hawaii, California, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.
It is found in the Canadian provinces of Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Quebec.
Bloodroot grows best in well-drained soils, and it prefers woods and thickets, but it can also be found in flood plains and along streams and fence lines.
As a myrmecochoric plant, seed dispersal relies primarily on ants. The introduction of non-native invasive ants has threatened the effectiveness of this seed dispersal method, as non-native fire ant species often damage the seed when eating the elaiosome and frequently deposit seeds in unsuitable growing conditions. Just like many species in the Eastern Woodland region, the loss of habitat has had a great impact on S. canadensis populations, with the loss of open shaded woodlands to invasive shrubs and dense-growing trees.
Bloodroot is “Exploitably Vulnerable” in New York and of “Special Concern” in Rhode Island.
Sanguinaria canadensis has not yet been evaluated by the IUCN Red List
Historically, parts of bloodroot were used by Native Americans to treat respiratory and gastrointestinal problems and to induce abortions in both people and horses. It is used by some in modern days as a natural animal feed additive and as part of antibacterial compounds in dental products. It is also found in some cough remedies and used as a homeopathic arthritis treatment.
The rhizome is a host of several active alkaloids. Sanguinarine and chelerythrine are the major quaternary benzophenanthridine alkaloids present in S. canadensis. It is important to note that the alkaloid Sanguinarine is toxic, causing the death of animal cells, and ingesting it can cause the disease epidemic dropsy.
A vast majority of commercially harvested Bloodroot is exported to Europe to be used in livestock feed. It is not completely clear how much bloodroot is harvested each year. Various sources state that the number is anywhere from at least 38 to 55 tons a year. A report completed for the North Carolina Consortium on Natural Medicinal Products suggests that 135,000 pounds of bloodroot were sold to the industry back in 2001, with sales having risen since then.
Amateur harvesters and careless poachers can easily mistake Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla) with Bloodroot due to the visual similarities of the flowers, leaves, and roots, but twinleaf lacks the medicinal alkaloids and the deep red latex in its roots. J. diphylla is “Endangered” in Georgia and New Jersey and “Threatened” in Iowa and New York.
Sustainable cultivation of S. canadensis is incredibly important as demand for the plant increases, but almost all Bloodroot sold commercially is wild harvested. Please make sure all Bloodroot you acquire has been cultivated, or use alternative medicinal species. Always talk to your doctor before starting a new medical treatment, to make sure it won’t react poorly to yourself or any medicines you are taking.
If you cut or bruise a Bloodroot rhizome it exudes a red watery sap. Native Americans basket makers still extract this sap and use it as a dye.
When we first moved to Vermont, over twenty years ago now, each spring I took note of a solitary white flower that would appear among a profusion of ferns on the slope behind our house. A quick look in a wildflower guide told me it was Bloodroot.
Eventually I decided to clear the slope and create a brand new garden. First, in springtime, I carefully marked the location of the Bloodroot. Then the following fall I dug around the marker and soon discovered a single rhizome that exuded the characteristic red sap. I knew I had what I was looking for!
I then carefully replanted it in my newly created ‘shade garden’ beneath a trio of serviceberries. And each spring for the next several years I was delighted by the ever-widening colony of white Bloodroot flowers, to be followed later by the characteristic scalloped leaves.
After a few more years, once again in fall, I re-dug my Bloodroot. I carefully divided the tangled mass of rhizomes and replanted several segments in other parts of the garden. Now every April I look forward to the emergence of five beautiful colonies of this amazing wildflower, telling me once again that spring has returned to the mountains of Vermont.
About the Author: Judith Irven is an accomplished Vermont landscape designer and garden writer, and she delights in helping people everywhere create beautiful gardens. You can visit her online at: OutdoorSpacesVermont.com.
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Spring ephemerals are often the first thing we think about when it comes to a woodland garden.
You know, those flowers that suddenly appear in early spring and quietly disappear almost as quickly as they appeared until re-emerging the following spring. In the meantime, they provide an essential early source of nectar for many of our pollinators and kick off the official woodland gardening season.
The diminutive Hepatica, the well-loved Trillium, and the aptly-named Bloodroot are three easy-to-grow spring wildflowers to plant in your woodland garden. All three will give you an early bloom, with the Hepatica adding lovely little hits of colour combined with its hairy stems and purple flowers.
Let’s take a closer look at all three of these woodland wonders.
I remember going out into the woods around our home looking for the perfect Hepatica to photograph. My photo friends and I would crawl around the wet forest floor examining the delicate flowers (actually members of the buttercup family) trying to find the perfect specimen. They would emerge in early spring before the trees leafed out and when the ground was still wet from the melting winter snow. They opened only on sunny days and we would have to bring along a small mister to dampen the surrounding leaves and darken them for the photograph.
That just gives you an idea of how early you can expect these wildflowers to bloom.
Although Hepatica are native to Europe, Asia and eastern North America, our hunting grounds were the hardwood forests of southern Ontario. Theses small evergreen plants appeared, often tucked among the limestone rocks and fallen tree trunks in shades of pink, purple, blue or white sepals sitting atop the three green bracts on very hairy stems. In the United States, they are often found growing in rich woodlands from Minnesota to Maine and even as far south as Northern Florida and west to Alabama.
Spring in the woodland. Hepatica clump growing up against moss-covered limestone rock.
Hepatica nobilis is the plant found in Eastern North America, Europe and Japan, but other varieties, namely obtusa and var. acuta can also be found in North America.
There is nothing like a macro shot of a delicate, blue Hepatica with the sun streaming in from behind the flower and lighting up the delicate hairs along the stems of the plant. To get these shots we had to get low, very low. These flowers rise up only a couple of inches from the ground at best and don’t really flower unless they are getting at least some sun. Great specimens were not easy to find. Adding to the difficulty was the fact that we were capturing these images in the days of Kodachrome or Fuji Velvia with ASAs of 25 and 50.
Those days are done. Modern digital cameras open up the possibilities of capturing these wildflowers in very creative ways. And there is no real need to go into the forest to find these flowers when you can just go into your own backyard to experience them.
Hepatica hybrids have been cultivated in Japan going back to the 18th century. There are Youtube videos exploring the Japanese fascination with these flowers. This obsession is not hard to understand considering the delicate nature of the plants and how well they fit in to a Japanese-style garden. The Japanese have long perfected the hybrids with doubled petals in a range of colour patterns.
Although the hybrids can work in a woodland garden if you want a little more showiness, I always try to get the native wildflower or species plant (Hepatica nobilis)
Remember those Hepatica I photographed years ago? They were growing in alkaline limestone-derived soil. These flowers are not overly particular about where exactly they grow and can be found in a range of conditions, from the deep shade of a woodland to a grassland in full sun. They are most happy in a shaded location with rich organic soil and will live for many years. Once established, they will form colourful clumps of flowers that will bloom early in spring alongside even your crocuses. They are happy in both sandy and a clay-rich soil. What Hepatica really need for success is a covering of snow in winter and an evenly moist soil throughout the year.
Gardeners on a budget can grow Hepatica from seed, however be prepared to wait several years for the plant to bloom. Divided plants will also take a few years to recover and thicken up.
The perfect place to sit and enjoy the spring Trilliums in our front garden.
It’s hard to imagine a woodland without Trilliums. Easily recognized by their three petalled white flowers surrounded by a whorl of three green leaves, these early spring bloomers have long been a favourite of gardeners looking to celebrate spring.
Although there are more than 40 trillium species, with varying colours ranging from white to yellow, maroon and approaching nearly purple, most are familiar with the white trillium (T. grandiflorum).
Trilliums nestled in around a fallen birch branch in this natural woodland scene.
During those same photographic outings with my buddies we would often stop by the “Trillium Trail” at a local provincial park that was literally covered with thousands of Trilliums in all shapes, sizes and interesting variations. It was always an impressive site but in some ways overwhelming to photograph. So many Trilliums, so little time.
If given proper growing conditions, Trilliums are relatively easy to grow and are long-lived in our woodland gardens. Provide them with an organic-rich soil that is well drained but kept moist all summer. The flowers will bloom early before the trees are all leafed out, and become dormant by midsummer.
Trilliums do not transplant well if they are dug up from the forest floor, so always purchase Trilliums from a reputable nursery.
Gardeners on a budget can propagate Trilliums from seed, but expect to wait up to five years before you begin to see blooms. Seeds sown in the garden will not even germinate until the second year. Propagating trilliums by rhizome cuttings or, even better, division when the plant is dormant is probably an easier way to go.
A bloodroot flower tries to emerge from its leaf that wraps around it like a glove in the early spring garden.
Every spring I watch for the Bloodroot to emerge in our front woodland garden beneath the Serviceberry tree and one of our Japanese Maples. They are growing beside a large limestone boulder tucked in and among ground covers that hide the emerging plant until just before they bloom. I’m often surprised to suddenly see the lovely white blooms with the sunny yellow center.
My sudden encounters every spring is not a surprise since the Bloodroot flower emerges from the ground on a single stem wrapped up in their own single, large leaf. The white multi-petaled blossom may even begin opening before the leaf has completely unwrapped. The bloom, which can stretch upwards of 12-14 inches high, manages to rise just slightly above the leaf before opening. On a sunny day the white flower with its blood-red stem and roots, opens to reveal its stunning flower only to close up again at night.
A selective focus image of a Bloodroot flower emerging in the spring garden.
Our native bloodroots are members of the poppy family. Like other ephemerals they are only in flower for a fleeting time in spring before they disappear again only to rise up again the following spring.
Bloodroots spread rapidly and can make an excellent ground cover. And here is an interesting fact, seed dispersal is primarily done by ants.
You can expect to find them growing wild in moist woodlands throughout the U.S. and Canada from Eastern Quebec to Manitoba and south to Florida, Alabama and Texas.
For gardeners on a budget, the best method of propagation is by seed. It is best to plant the seeds immediately after you collect them, usually in early to mid-June. It’s also important to ensure the seeds do not dry out. This is a good reason to harvest your own seed rather than using commercially available stock.
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Native Plant Spotlight: Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis
I am a fan of native plants because to me they just make sense. Native plants are food for the local ecology and they are adapted to local soils. While I also enjoy horticultural varieties of some plants, my love of natives continues to grow. When I studied herbal medicine one of my favorite medicinals (and native wildflowers) was bloodroot. Every spring I loved (and still do) to go out to the woods, close to streams, where it grows and find out if its up and in bloom yet. You have to pay attention because when bloodroot blooms it blooms quickly. Its a magical feeling every year when I have been checking every few days and then BAM! there it is. Even my husband gets excited about looking for it.
Bloodroot provides pollen for native bees and is mostly deer resistant. It is an endangered wildflower so I have enjoyed spreading the word about planting it in your gardens. You can purchase the rhizome and plant it in a moist, shady area in your garden. The flower stalk with the closed inflorescence pops up first with the leaf curled around the stem.
Bloodroot first emergence
Next the flower opens up and it is such a beautiful sight. Since this plant spreads mostly by rhizome there are usually large clumps of bloodroot displaying gorgeous flowers at once. It can be inconspicuous at first when spotted blooming. I see one then all of a sudden I realize there is bloodroot sprinkled everywhere across the forest floor. It’s really an amazing experience.
One note of interest from Carol Gracie’s book Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast, the seeds of Bloodroot have an elaiosome, the aroma of which attracts ants. The ants pick up the seeds and disperse them after they eat the elaiosome.
Eliaosomes on bloodroot seeds- food for ants
In the fall or winter you can dig the rhizome and break off an ‘eye’ to share with a gardener friend. Just pop the new piece into the ground and you’ll have another bloodroot plant! Please don’t dig this plant in the wild since its endangered.
One interesting variety of bloodroot is the double bloodroot pictured here. It is gorgeous but I have to say that I am partial to the good old fashioned Bloodroot!
Sanguinaria canadensis ‘multiplex’ or ‘plena’
Bloodroot is used medicinally for chronic bronchitis and topically as an escharotic. I used it once to remove a wart on one of my roommates parents finger! It does contain toxic alkaloids so its not commonly used unless under the advice of a professional herbalist. As an herbalist, gardener and lover of natives this plant fills many goals in my garden: medicinal, native, endangered, pollinator food, gorgeous, low maintenance, deer resistant, good for shade!
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Yes, the commonly used name for our beloved, early spring, native wildflower Sanguinaria canadensis is "bloodroot." This makes perfect sense, as a break in the surface of the plant, especially the roots, reveals a reddish, bloodlike sap. Bloodroot was once used as a dye and as an herbal remedy by early Native Americans. Sanguinaria canadensis is native to every state in the U.S. and to every Canadian province east of the Rockies. Consequently, it's considered hardy down to Zone 3.
And what an easy plant it is to grow! Bloodroot is best planted in average, well-drained soils in part to full shade. It will also do fine with some sun, and seems to grow just as well in drier soils.
The large, multiple, pure-white blooms atop 6-inch to 12-inch plants will grace your garden in early Spring and, after a couple of years, you'll have a colony of self-sown seedlings around a plant that has grown into a very substantial, attractive clump.
The genus Sanguinaria is a member of the Papaveraceae (Poppy) family and is a close relative of plants in the genera Macleaya, Papaver, Meconopsis, Stylophorum, Chelidonium etc.
Oh, if you'd like to know more about Vampires and you don't get HBO to watch the show True Blood, you can go to the Real Vampire Directory and learn more.
By the way, Sanguinaria canadensis is 100 percent deer-proof, rabbit-proof, squirrel-proof, mole-proof, vole-proof, chipmunk-proof, well . nothing seems to bother it. There's a whole host of companion plants that Bloodroot is right at home with, such as Arisaema, Jeffersonia, Uvularia, Hellebores, Hepatica's, Ferns and, well, just use your imagination.
I've been building a good stock of these super-easy to grow plants to share with you and now is the perfect time to plant them to ensure that the roots have plenty of time to develop before winter.
What you receive when you order bloodroot are 5-to-7-year-old bareroot rhizomes that have flowered for the last 2 years. They're ready to plant for a spectacular bloom next Spring. The rhizomes arrive wrapped in moistened, long-fibered, un-milled sphagnum moss. This biodegradable material is antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and a very useful material to recycle. To order from Sunshine Farm and Gardens, just fill out the order form.
I welcome you to come visit the gardens here and see thousands of "Bloodroot" and Gazillions of other plants, including 6 acres of "Lenten Roses" in full bloom this coming spring or anytime that you'd like, just call or email me first to make sure that I'll be here to show you around.
By the way, many thanks to my friend Peggy Cornett for the bloodroot image, hers was so much better than mine.
If you have any questions, would like to chat about bloodroot or any other plant that Barry is offering, send an email to his personal email address. Barry’s entire "Speakers Portfolio" is now on line, so, if you're looking for a dynamic, entertaining, educating speaker for your Master Gardener Group, Garden Club, Civic Organization etc, you can peruse it here.
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