Bloodroot brings signs of Spring!

Sanguinaria canadensis, Bloodroot – Image by Sophie Zyla

An ephemeral beauty to find during the early spring woods walks! I’ve seen a few growing on the slopes behind the stand of Mountain Laurel on the far southern end of Matthies Park.  There are some lovely plants growing along the Botany Trail at Flanders in Woodbury if you happen up that way.

Papaveraceae – Poppy Family: petals in fours,  generally twice as many petals as sepals, numerous stamens, milky sap ranging from creamy white to pale yellow to blood-red; 2 to 3 sepals fall as the petals and stamen expand.

Sanguinaria canadensis, Bloodroot – Image by Sophie Zyla

S. canadensis is found in well-drained soils of rich forests often on a slope. The bud and single leaflet form underground the prior year and emerge together with flowers opening to enjoy the sunshine when temperatures reach 46 degrees.  A sign of spring! Flies are an early pollinator until temperatures above 55 degree bring out the bees. But find them quickly as the petals drop after just 3 days or so. Bloodroot is unusual for the poppy family with 8 and possibly 16 petals common and 2 sepals. Additional petals beyond the four are actually stamen. The seeds, formed inside a capsule hidden beneath the leaves, are a favorite of ants and carried off to their nests where they stand a good chance of growing in a new location. The lobed leaves linger long after the petals and seeds are gone and the heavily veined undersides are a good way to identify the plants.

Sanguinaria canadensis, Bloodroot – Image by Sophie Zyla

Bloodroot is aptly named for the red sap used as a red dye.  The plant was once the anti-plaque anti-bacterial agent found in toothpaste but discontinued due to possibility of causing cancerous lesions. It is a narcotic with sedative properties depressing the central nervous system and is also an expectorant and thought useful for treating cancer. There are side effects that can be fatal so not for prescribing by the untrained herbalist!

Go Botany Sanguinaria canadensis: Blood-root

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