Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wednesday's Wildflower: Bloodroot

While some wildflowers are strong and hardy, withstanding the elements with grace, some of them are far more delicate.

Bloodroot is one of them. You have to be diligent to visit its home frequently if you want to view it fresh and unblemished by wind or rain or a misplaced step.

They are an early spring ephemeral, usually emerging in March, or as soon as the days warm and lengthen.

The bloom reaches the surface first, its uniquely shaped leaf sheathing the flower's stem.

Often, the fragile flower has already succumbed to the elements by the time the leaf fully unfurls.

Unlike the Trout Lily and the Spring Beauty, Bloodroot is solitary in nature, with each plant crowned by a single showy flower. The blooms are 1-2 inches across, and have 8-16 white petals surrounding a bundle of gold-yellow stamens. Four of these petals are longer than the rest, giving the blossom a cross shape at the height of bloom.

If you are lucky, you may even come across a glorious individual sporting a double mane.

Photo by Sherry Jackson
The interestingly lobed leaf remains long after the flower has disappeared, and can often still be seen once summer is well underway. It even keeps growing, sometimes expanding to 8 inches wide before withering away.

It is absorbing every precious ray of sunshine to help fuel next spring's bloom.

The Latin name for this plant is Sanguinaria canadensis. Sanguinaria is from the Latin word sanguis, meaning "blood."

So why does this pristine flower carry such an ominous name?

The secret is revealed when you crush the roots, for it does indeed bleed.

A Guide to Lullwater Park
A red-orange sap will flow from a wound, and it is this elixir that has made Bloodroot most useful to human beings throughout history.

The Native Americans would use the sap as a dye for fabric, baskets and hides. It was also used to dye bodies.

To the Muskogee people, Bloodroot was used as war paint. They would break away the roots from the plant, applying it like a pencil. 

Only the tribeswomen were allowed to gather the roots, however, so they ultimately controlled when and why the men went into battle.
The juice possesses the powerful alkaloid sanguinarine that is antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory. 

It was traditionally used as women's medicine, treating menstrual complaints and symptoms of PMS. It is so powerful, that simply rubbing the freshly cut root on the skin was enough to absorb the healing agents.

The dried roots produced a yellow powder that was used for both internal and external medicine

Sanguinarine has also appeared in some products pretty familiar to us today.

It was once added as an anti-inflammatory agent to toothpaste and mouthwash to help prevent gingivitis and the build-up of plaque.

As a result, wild Bloodroot was in danger of disappearing, completely. Sanguinarine is now produced from the Plume Poppy, which makes for an easily propagated and fast growing alternative.

Research has also suggested that this alkaloid offers some protection from cancer, so it may prove very important in the near future.

Of course, powerful medicine also means powerful toxins. In fact, there is often a fine line between poison and medicine, without the knowledge of proper use and dosage. So it should go without saying that you should never try to self-medicate using wild herbs.

Some of its nicknames in reference to its myriad uses are Red Puccoon, Red Indian Paint, Turmeric, Snakebite and Pauson.

For wildlife it is largely unpalatable - unless you are a bee, or course.

Honeybees, bumblebees, mining bees and even bee flies visit the flowers during their brief blooming period.

Once the bloom fades and the fruit develops, it is the ants that help disperse the seeds.

Attached to each seed is a fleshy, oily aril that emits a pheromone, beckoning the ants to them.

Wildflower Weekly
The ants carry them back to the colony, feed on the arils and discard the seeds.
Bloodroot is one of the very few plant species that uses ants for seed dispersal.

Alex Wild
The flowers will come and go within the space of a week; a single, fleeting note amid a glorious symphony of color and fragrance rising from the forest floor.

Be sure to join us for next Wednesday's wildflower!

Click here to read about last week's wildflowerYellow Trout Lily

Medicinal information herein is shared strictly for anecdotal purposes. Do not attempt to self-medicate with wild herbs. Please consult a doctor first.

Next flower->


Native Plants, Native Healing, Traditional Muskogee Way - Tis Mal Crow

All About Tennessee Wildflowers - Jan. W. Midgley

Wildflowers of Tennessee, The Ohio Valley and the Southern Appalachians - Dennis Horn and Tavia Cathcart


  1. What a neat little wildflower. I was thinking dangerous when you said alkaloid- very interesting stuff about how it has been used in so many ways! I have never heard of a plant that uses ants to disperse seeds before, either. Thanks for this post!

    1. There are a lot of very toxic wildflowers out there. It's amazing to read about how Native Americans were able to use them without poisoning themselves. How important that knowledge was!

  2. Lisa from IroquoisMarch 18, 2015 at 7:50 AM

    I identified a Bloodroot flower/plant growing at the edge of my kitchen garden last year, among the stones of the edging border. I worked at making sure it was not disturbed by the whipper snipper or otherwise damaged and I am hoping it will re-appear this year.

    1. They are a lovely flower. I'm glad you found one!

      Thanks for stopping by. :)

  3. I have the book by Tis Mal Crow. I reference it often. :)

    1. It's a very interesting book. Especially his section on the language of plants.

  4. Thanks for sharing. Will be looking for this this spring. There are great uses for bloodroot in the herbal world.

  5. Thank you again for this wonderful series! I enjoy it so!

  6. What a beautiful tutorial you have put together on Bloodroot, and so educational as well. . The flower is so pretty. Thank you for sharing with the Clever Chicks Blog Hop! I hope you’ll join us again next week!

    Kathy Shea Mormino
    The Chicken Chick

  7. Beautiful flower and lovely story! I really think they had a great idea back then with women controlling war ;-) Maybe we should go back to that method?

    Thanks for linking up with Green Thumb Thursday! I hope you'll join us again this week!


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