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GardenSMART :: Native Bloodroot is a Woodland Sign of Spring

Native Bloodroot is a Woodland Sign of Spring

By Therese Ciesinski, GardenSMART

On sunny days in early spring it pops up among the leaf litter: A single, white or pink-tinged multi-petal flower with a yellow center, rising about 6 inches above a single, round, lobed leaf. The common name is bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis). Its bloom time – early spring – and deceptively fragile appearance makes bloodroot a sort of native woodland equivalent of the cultivated garden crocus. Both are lovely, show up early, and are tougher than they look.

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A member of the poppy family, bloodroot flowers are short-lived, only a couple of days, but are delicately beautiful and fresh, especially against the dull browns and grays of the dried leaves they emerge from. They open during the day when temperatures are above 46 degrees, and close at night. Solitary bees, ants and beetles eat the pollen.

Bloodroot does best in part shade to full shade, though flowers need some sun for best bloom. Soil should be moist, rich and well drained. Plants do best in a neutral to slightly acidic pH. It is drought tolerant once established, has no pest or disease problems, and is hardy in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3 to 8. Prime bloom time is March and April.

Each plant has a single leaf that slowly unfurls, revealing the flower bud. The leaf is large, and grows larger as the season continues. It disappears by late summer, sooner if the soil is dry.

Break a leaf stem and it's clear why it's called bloodroot. The sap from the stem and in the root is vivid red, startling against those bright white petals. The first part of the Latin name, sanguis, means blood. Native Americans used the sap to dye baskets and clothing. The rhizome and sap are poisonous, so wear gloves or wash your hands after handling the plant.

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Bloodroot is perennial, and grows as a rhizome (a thickened root) that can be divided in fall or early spring. It also spreads by seed, which are distributed courtesy of ants. It is a fast spreader, and because the leaves can grow more than 9" across, can be used as a loose groundcover. It tolerates the juglone from black walnut trees.

Bloodroot is native to eastern and central parts of the U.S. and Canada and has spread through the lower 48 states. It is still readily found in the wild, usually near streams and in the woods. It's a great early spring addition to woodland, rock, or wildflower gardens. Grow it with spring beauty (Claytonia virginica), liverleaf (Hepatica americana), trout lilies (Erythronium), wake robin (Trillium), and other early spring blooming flowers.



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