Bloodroot - Sanguinaria canadensis

Bloodroot – Sanguinaria canadensis

After the snow melts, one of the first wildflowers to emerge is Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis). Native to the eastern U.S. and Canada, it grows in woodlands and moist areas. Its name comes from its reddish-orange sap, which will stain and cause disfiguring lesions on your skin. Native Americans used the root to make a reddish dye, so one wonders if they suffered contact with the plant or if it was diluted when used.

Curiously, they live symbiotically with ants who disperse their seed,

(from Wikipedia) “a process called myrmecochory. The seeds have a fleshy organ called an elaiosome that attracts ants. The ants take the seeds to their nest, where they eat the elaiosomes, and put the seeds in their nest debris, where they are protected until they germinate. They also get the added bonus of growing in a medium made richer by the ant nest debris.”

Bloodroot spreads readily to form large colonies, ideally in moist, pH neutral soil in partial to full shade. My colony grows under deciduous red maple trees, which leaf out after they bloom, and shortly before Bloodroot complete their growing season, becoming dormant in late spring. There is a double cultivar available from nurseries, which doesn’t spread as readily as the native variety as they produce less seed. Collecting plants from the wild is prohibited, so always purchase from a reputable nursery. I believe collecting seed is allowed; however, always leave enough to ensure the growth of the colony.

About Eliza Waters

Gardener, writer, photographer, naturalist
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31 Responses to Bloodroot

  1. mk says:

    What a beautiful plant! Those leaves look like they’re reaching upward for the flower. Why is it prohibited to gather wild plants? (Unwise as that might be.)

    • Eliza Waters says:

      At night the leaves close up like a cloak, wrapping the flower. Cool, huh? Years ago, people indiscriminately pillaged wild populations of plants leading to local extinctions, so they made it against the law to collect wild plants and animals. It is technically illegal to “save” a baby bird or squirrel without a license. Even owning a wild bird nest is against the law, because some birds re-use nests, like raptors and crows. It’s one of those laws that don’t really get enforced until you are caught, then uh-oh, you pay!
      Ultimately, it is to protect wildlife and that is a good thing.

      • mk says:

        Thanks for that lengthy reply. I feel like I have the whole picture, and I’m glad to know that the law-makers are protecting nature. When I was in Wales, our guides always took pride in pointing out bluebells, and always mentioned that it was forbidden to pick them. They told us that bluebells grew near old growth trees. I admire people who know so much about nature.

  2. Dawn says:

    What a beautiful leaf – very textured.

  3. wspines says:

    How interesting, I can not remember ever seeing one on my woodland walks. It would be interesting to try as a dye .. Thank for sharing all these wonderful facts, especially about the ants.

    • Eliza Waters says:

      You often see them along ditches that hold ephemeral water. They like moisture, but not disturbed land. They are really all around our area, once you note them, you will see them everywhere! They are emerging now, so keep your eyes peeled!

  4. Fascinating, just that leaf alone is so textured and full of interesting patterns. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Amy Pinkrose says:

    Eliza, I’ve never seen that plant here locally. Where is the Bloodroot? Where does it grow? It looks like a fascinating flower/plant to photograph! It is SO beautiful!!!! Love, Amy

  6. dorannrule says:

    So interesting! I have never seen it here in Virginia but that does not mean it’s not here. Thanks for sharing the Bloodroot story Eliza.

    • Eliza Waters says:

      You’re welcome, thanks for commenting. It doesn’t do well in ‘disturbed land’ so perhaps look in woodlands that haven’t been under man’s hand…(tough assignment!)

  7. so glad you posted this. Inspired me to look up the symbolic meaning of this plant. For some reason even the name “bloodroot” carries resonance on these days. I feel it will makes its way into my artwork 🙂

    • Eliza Waters says:

      So I went straightaway to look that up… it “makes way for the light of new potential” – indeed a good symbol. I’ll look for that artwork 🙂 Have a great weekend.

  8. ladyfi says:

    A beautiful shot. I like the way the leaves seem to be protecting the flowers.

  9. Spy Garden says:

    Great photo. And just a few days ago was a “blood moon” so timing is great too!

  10. Robbie says:

    I agree with above, the texture in that flower leaf is beautiful! Lovely shot + as always when I stop by I learn more about our wildflowers. This one I have never seen hiking, but I will look now! I also like the shapes in the leaf veins…quite detailed as if they were carved:-)

  11. Pingback: Bloodroot in Black | The Miserly Photographer

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