bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
Sanguinaria canadensis var. rotundifolia (Greene) Fedde
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Pending confirmation.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name of bloodroot is
Sanguinaria canadensis L. The leaves of Sanguinaria canadensis are quite
variable in shape and size, and the scape and petals vary considerably in
length. In some plants the petals are clearly differentiated into sets of two
different sizes, but in others the differentiation is barely perceptible. Ex-
tremes of variation in these characters have been the bases for recogniz-
ing several forms, varieties, and even distinct species, but intermediates
of all degrees are found and the variation is only loosely correlated with
geography or habitat. Thus, it seems best to limit formal recognition to a
single, quite variable species.
NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States and Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:
Habit: This native perennial plant is about 6" tall.
Leaves: It produces only basal leaves that are about 4-5" wide and across.
Each of these basal leaves is wrapped around the stalk of a single flower
(sometimes two stalks are produced) as the flower begins to bloom. The
basal leaves continue to unfold to their fullest extent as the flowers wither
away. Each basal leaf is orbicular in outline and palmately veined, with
5-9 major lobes and several minor lobes along the undulating margins.
The palmate venation is fairly prominent and provides the rather succulent
leaves with a wrinkly appearance. This venation is even more conspicuous
on the lower surface, providing a reticulated appearance. The color of the
leaves on the upper surface is light green, sometimes with greyish or blu-
ish tints, while the lower surface is whitish green. The round petioles are
about 4" long and rather stout. The foliage of this plant is glabrous and
Flowers: The flowering stalk is round, stout, hairless, and sometimes
slightly reddish, terminating in a single large flower. This stalk is about
3-4" tall when the flower begins to bloom. The flower is about 1½3" across,
consisting of 8-16 white petals (occasionally light pink), a green oval pistil,
and numerous stamens with prominent yellow anthers. The pistil has a pale
yellow stigma at its apex. There are 2 light green sepals that are nearly as
long as the petals, but they fall off the flowering stalk as soon as the flower
begins to bloom. Each flower remains in bloom for only 1 or 2 days (when
it is sunny), and produces a fragrant scent.
Fruit/Seeds: The seed capsule eventually turns yellow and falls to the
ground, splitting open to release the seeds.
Roots: The root system consists of thick reddish rhizomes with coarse
fibrous roots. Both the foliage and the rhizomes contain an acrid reddish
juice. This plants often forms vegetative colonies.
REGENERATION PROCESS: Bloodroot propogates itself by reseed-
ing and vegetative spread by rhizomes.
HABITAT TYPES: Habitats include mesic deciduous woodlands,
either in wooded areas with slopes (ravines, bluffs, valley bottoms), or
wooded areas where the ground is reasonably level. Moist to dry woods
and thickets, often on flood plains and shores or near streams on slopes,
less frequently in clearings and meadows or on dunes, rarely in disturbed
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Bloodroot prefers soil that is fertile and
loamy, with average moisture levels (by woodland standards). The foliage
is not affected by disease significantly, although it will gradually wither
away as the summer progresses. During the early to mid-spring, blood-
root needs access to some sunlight, otherwise the flowers may fail to open.
After the trees begin to form leaves later in the spring, considerable shade
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: The blooming period occurs from early
to mid-spring and lasts about 2 weeks.
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Bloodroot is an eastern North American
species, occurring from Florida north to Quebec and the maritime provin-
ces (with the exception of Newfoundland), extending west to the Great
Plains, from Texas north to Manitoba. It is not naturally found in the south-
west, Rocky Mountain states or provninces, the far western and northwest-
ern Pacific states or provinces.
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION: To be determined.
IMPORTANCE AND USES: The pollen of the flowers attracts various
kinds of bees, including honeybees, little carpenter bees, Halictid bees,
and Andrenid bees. Other insects that visit the flowers include Syrphid
flies, bee-flies, and beetles, which feed on the pollen (or search vainly for
nectar). The seeds are distributed by ants because of their fleshy append-
ages. This is a common method of seed distribution for woodland wild-
flowers, as wind speeds are greatly reduced in wooded areas. The foliage
and rhizomes contain an acrid reddish juice and are toxic. Consequently,
this plant is not often eaten by mammalian herbivores.
The juice of plants in Genus Sanguinaria possess anti-bacterial properties
with possible pharmaceutical applications, including an anti-plaque mouth-
wash. In addition, bloodroot is an ingredient of some compound cough
remedies; however, it contains the poisonous alkaloid sanguinarine, and
the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has characterized Sanguinaria
canadensis as an unsafe herb. Native Americans used it medicinally to
treat ulcers and sores, croup, cramps, burns, tapeworms, fevers, diarrhea,
and irregular periods, in cough syrups, as a spring emetic and blood
purifier, to stop vomiting, as a love charm, as well as in cermonial face
paint (red dye was extracted from the juice of the rhizomes).
Calendar of Events
Sky Meadows Park
Crooked Run Valley