1257 Sanguinaria canadensisCommon Names: bloodroot,puccoon,puckoon Family: Papaveraceae (poppy Family)
Bloodroot is a rhizomatous woodland perennial with a large heart shaped leaf and pretty white flowers that bloom, one at a time, in early spring. Bloodroot hides under the ground for half the year, to emerge in spring with a single rather large basal leaf that continues enlarging even after flowering is over, eventually reaching as much as 6-10” (15-25 cm) across before shriveling and disappearing in late summer. The blue-green leaf is palmate with 5-9 lobes. A single white flower with 8-12 petals and a golden-yellow center rises 4-6 in (10-15 cm) above the leaf, which often curls around the flower stalk. The flower is about 2 in (5 cm) across, opening on sunny days and closing at night, but lasting only for a few days. A few additional flowers may follow. The fruit is a pod, pointed at both ends and shaped like a spindle, 1-2 in (25-50 cm) long. New plants arise along a thick underground rhizome that branches to form colonies. The rhizome exudes an acrid red-orange sap when cut.
The cultivar ‘Multiplex’ (also known as ‘Plena’ and ‘Flore Pleno) has double flowers with some 40-50 petals that persist longer than those of the species.
Sanguinaria canadensis is not uncommon in rich woodlands along streams, and in forested valleys from Nova Scotia to Manitoba and south to northern Florida and eastern Texas. It can be found in association with other spring ephemerals such as violets (for example, Viola sororia), trilliums (for example, Trillium underwoodii), and trout lily (Erythronium americanum).
Light: This is a woodland perennial that thrives in partial to deep shade. It is at its best under deciduous trees so that it gets nearly full sun in very early spring and as the days get warmer and the canopy trees leaf out, it gets more and more shade. Moisture: Bloodroot does best in a moderately fertile moist soil, rich in organics. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 9 . Propagation: : It is easy to propagate bloodroot from pieces of rhizome. They can be grown from seed, but this is a laborious process involving stratification at warmer, then cooler, and finally warmer temperatures. The best way to grow bloodroot from seed is to sow in summer in an outdoor cold frame.
Bloodroot is at its best in a shady woodland garden or rock garden. Allow it to naturalize under deciduous trees. The kidney or heart shaped leaves are quite attractive in their own right as they continue to expand though the growing season. By mid to late summer all signs of bloodroot are gone.
Bloodroot can also be grown in a container, but, of course, it will disappear by midsummer. The cultivar with many petals is especially attractive.
Native Americans used the sap as a red dye for clothing and baskets as well as for war paint. It was also used as an insect repellent.
Daniel Moerman’s Native American Ethnobotany lists dozens of examples of American Indians from all over eastern North America using bloodroot for dozens of medicinal applications from coughing bouts to heart disease and everything in between. Whether any of these uses actually did any good is questionable, and we now know that the sap of bloodroot is poisonous. The Indians probably figured anything so distinctive as the bright orange-red sap had to be useful. My guess is that bloodroot concoctions were used in very small (sublethal) doses – the original homeopathic medicine?
Sanguinaria is a monotypic genus, and Sanguinaria canadensis is its only species. Bloodroot is one of North America’s spring ephemeral woodland flowers that are such a delight on our post-winter woodland excursions. See Floridata’s profile of prostrate blue violet (Viola walteri) for a partial list of spring ephemerals for eastern North American gardens.
The alternate common name, puccoon, is a Native American word that refers to a plant that yields a red dye.
The rhizome’s red sap is acrid and all parts of bloodroot are poisonous, at least in large doses. People have died from ingesting concoctions of the sap.
Steve Christman 4/12/16