JARS v42n2 - Bloodroot - A Choice Companion

Bloodroot - A Choice Companion
Shirley Harry, Roswell, Georgia

Reprinted from the Azalea Chapter newsletter

In March and April, well before most rhododendrons flaunt their exotic blooms, the woodland floor sparkles with the waxen, daisy-like blossoms of the bloodroot ( Sanguinaria canadensis ) - a welcome sight indeed for winter-starved flower lovers. Bloodroot is a delicate appearing, but extremely tough and hardy wildflower that is abundant in rich deciduous woods throughout the eastern United States.

The plants begin to flower in early March in the Atlanta area and, though each blossom lasts only a few days, in a large clump the flowers continue to unfurl their eight or more petals for several weeks. Each white or pale pink bud pushes up through the mulch of fallen leaves with a succulent leaf wrapped snugly around the stem. The gray-green deeply lobed leaf expands and continues to develop in size for several days, normally reaching 4" to 6" in width. Under optimum conditions plants may reach 12" in height.

Bloodroot foliage makes an arresting ground cover during the summer, sometimes lasting until fall if plants are watered well during dry spells. Long, plump, pointed green seed pods mature in late spring and the brown seeds should be collected as soon as the pods will open at a slight manual pressure.

The rhizomatous "bulbs" are dull red in color and they secrete a brownish-red fluid when severed. In earlier times the American Indians used this juice to paint their faces and bodies and to dye the vines and fibers from which they wove their baskets and clothing.

Mature plants are readily divided and transplanted. Bloodroot is easily propagated from freshly collected seed sown in flats or prepared outside beds. Volunteer plants also develop each year from un-harvested seed.

Happy in a wide variety of soils, plants quickly become acclimated to the acid conditions that Ericaceous species require. They are happy in the company of azaleas and rhododendrons where they spread steadily but not rampantly.

Bloodroot is a lovely sight among rocks and along woodland paths, performing at its best in light shade. Again, however, it is not too choosy and will make a delightful bouquet at the base of a tree or among ferns in complete shadow. As an added bonus, it appears to have few natural enemies. Even the ubiquitous rabbits and slugs seem to find it less flavorful than other wild flowers.