Scientific Name: Sanguinaria canadensis ([Lat] sanguis: blood])
Common Name: Bloodroot
Origin: Native - perennial
Notes: Bloodroot is sometimes called a springtime ephemeral. The flower qualifies; but, the leaf may not since it lasts well into summer. Some writers prefer to call such plants ephemeroids (see comments below). The rhizome and roots are red when cut which is the characteristic responsible for the plants common name. The sap in the rhizome and roots contains the toxin sanguinarine. Don't ingest any part of the plant and if you handle the roots wash your hands soon afterwards. The toxin is being evaluated for possible medicinal uses.
Additional references: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15.
Flower: early April; terminal on scape; sepals 2—deciduous when flowers open; petals 8-12 oblong white or pinkish; stigma 2 grooved, style absent or indistinct; ovary bicarpellate and unilocular; fruit a capsule
Leaf: a single large leaf often clasping the flower scape, petiole up to 15cm, blade orbiculate palmate 5-7 lobed, margins scalloped.
Glossary: Botanical Terms pdf
Comments: Bloodroot is insect pollinated, produces seeds with elaiosomes, and has a very short flowering period in early spring. These are all traits shared by an informally named group of plants called spring ephemerals. Sometimes a list of these ephemerals will include bloodroot while other lists will not. When it is not included, the reason given is that the large leaf and the maturing fruit supported on an upright scape are not ephemeral but will usually last well into summer. To distinguish between the ephemeral plants (like Spring beauty) which lose all of their above ground parts in a short growing season and the plants (like bloodroot) that retain above ground parts well into summer, some botanists prefer to call the latter ephemeroids. 1. 2. 3.
Bloodroot, and many ephemerals/ephemeroids, participate in a partnership with ants called myrmecochory. The ants distribute seeds for the plant and the seeds contain a special structure (an elaiosome) which provide a fatty nutrient for the ants. A seed that contains an elaiosome is called a diaspore. The ants drag the seeds to underground caches where some of the seeds germinate and form new plants. Bloodroot also reproduces vegetatively by budding new plants from the rhizomes.
The single flower on each bloodroot plant appears atop a leafless scape. The flowers exhibit a diurnal pattern of opening and closing (see nyctinasty). In the morning, if the temperature is satisfactory, when the sun hits the flower it may open in only 15 minutes; though, often it is closer to an hour. As the buds swell and open the sepals drop off. In the late afternoon, based on my few observations, when light levels drop off, it takes about 30 minutes to close up for the night. On cold overcast days the flowers may remain closed for several days. Pollinators are quick to find newly opened flowers and once pollinated the petals and stamen drop off within a couple of days. From the time the bud first opens until the time that the petals drop is often less than 7 days. However, the large single leaf and the fruit bearing scape continue to develop into summer. When the fruit is mature it splits (dehiscence) along two sutures and the seeds drop to the ground where they are carried off by ants.