Warning: Bloodroot can be extremely toxic, even fatal.
I'm not going to discuss the medical uses for bloodroot. There is plenty of information on the web (and from professional herbalists, which I certainly am not) explaining its benefits and dangers. Just let me say do your research very well. Also, consider pets and children before planting it in your landscape. As beautiful as this plant is, it is not worth risking loved ones’ health or possibly even lives.
I want to talk about the non-medical attributes of this lovely plant. Sanguinaria canadensis is a member of the poppy family (Papaveraceae). This native plant is endangered in some areas. In 2003 the National Park Service started monitoring bloodroot populations, as well as other threatened species such as ginseng and black cohosh, because of the reduction in population due to poaching. Poaching is illegal in all national parks.
Luckily, bloodroot can be shared if you know someone who is growing it in his or her gardens. It spreads both by rhizomes and by seed. Wait until the leaves have turned yellow to divide it. The first couple of times I tried to grow it, I was unsuccessful. Then in one year I had two different friends give me share plants from their gardens and I planted them in two separate places and both survived. In both cases, the plants appeared to die immediately but lo and behold the following year I was rewarded with charming white blooms and amazing leaves. I think I actually screamed the first time I noticed they had emerged I was so excited.
Bloodroot gets its common name from the reddish sap that will pour from its stalk and rhizomes. If fact, it will even clot like blood. I suggest wearing gloves whenever handling this plant. I found some information that stated the sap could harm skin cells.
I am not at all surprised to find out that Bloodroot was named the 2005 Virginia Wildflower of the Year by the Virginia Native Plant Society. Although only 6 inches tall when in bloom, it is a real charmer.
In early spring, stalks with single buds are completely encompassed within a rolled leaf. During the day when the sun is out the leaves unfurl and then at night they curl up again. The flower itself doesn't last very long, because it drops its petals within one to two days of being pollinated. The lovely 1 1/2 - 2-inch wide bright white flowers (rarely double) are a real joy to behold when little else is in bloom. Bloodroot has a sweet fragrance that it uses to attract pollinators such as various bees, flies and beetles. Ants that are attracted to the flesh around the seeds often disperse them.
The leaves themselves are also very interesting. The leaves are palmate with 5 to 9 lobes. They are very unique and once you've seen them you will always be able to recognize them. They continue to grow after the flowers are gone. They don't disappear until sometime in summer. Rarely do animals or diseases bother bloodroot. It grows into colonies if left alone. This plant needs sunlight in very early spring, so don't plant it under evergreens.
No matter which of its common names you use (bloodroot, red puccoon, coon root, snakebite, sweet slumber, red root, corn root, termeric or tetterwort) Sanguinaria canadensis will capture your heart!
Betty Truax is a member of the Virginia Native Plant Society. She's mother to four grown children, daughter to a great lady who inspired her love of flora and wife to a wonderful man who's always willing to help dig holes for plants. Betty lives in a lawn-free home near Charlottesville, Va., and is in the process of installing woodland gardens on the property.