What Is It Wednesday: Bloodroot

Name: Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Bloodroot is a native, perennial plant that produces a single flower and a single leaf. The flower is white with a golden centre and can have anywhere from 8-16 petals, and its leaf is round with multiple lobes. Its blooming progression occurs throughout March, April, and May. The stems and roots of this plant harbor a red-orange and poisonous sap.

(Photo Credit: Leah Derikx)

The leaf of this plant starts off curled around the unbloomed flower; as the flower unfurls, so does the leaf. Once bloomed, the flower sticks around for about 2 weeks waiting to be pollinated by native bees and/or flies. If neither appears, no worries! Bloodroot is able to self-pollinate. The flower’s petals start to fall almost immediately after pollination and the seeds are ready to be released about a month after the plant has flowered. Although Bloodroot can produce new plants by creating shoots and root systems through its horizontal, underground rhizomes, propagation by seed is more reliable, especially in the face of habitat loss and destruction. The seed has an enticing coating that lures some native ant species, which will eat the coating and discard the seed in the chamber where they keep their organic matter “garbage”. This “garbage” chamber creates a safe and fertile place for the seed to germinate.

In Canada, this plant can be found in southeast Manitoba to Nova Scotia. Figure 1 shows its range throughout North America. It flourishes in moist, deciduous woodlands with rich soil and vegetation.

(Photo Credit: Cathy Quinlan)



First Nations have used the red-orange juice of the plant as a dye to add colour to clothing, tools, and household items, as well as for medicinal purposes (typically to induce vomiting) and insect repellent. The juice is poisonous when ingested and can cause severe skin irritation. Take care to wear gloves and wash your hands when handling this plant. 

Fun Fact: Both the common and Latin name of this plant were inspired by the red-orange juice found throughout the plants stems and horizontal, underground roots (also known as rhizomes). The term Sanguinaria literally translates to bloody or blood red.

Figure 1: North American range of Bloodroot