My favourite Altona Forest wildflower is bloodroot – and today I was out enjoying its beauty. It’s not a very pretty name for an extremely charming woodland plant with starry, water-lily-like, bright white blooms with sunny yellow centers. Bloodroot flowers often open before their leaves fully unfurl and give you a cheerful show of spring in April just when you need it most. Each small plant is one leaf and one flower – each on it’s own stem, but they grow in vivid clumps.
The name, while unattractive, is well suited to this native, spring-blooming member of the poppy family. Bloodroot or Sanguinaria canadensis is unique for it’s orange-red sap or juice. When it’s rhizome is cut, it ‘bleeds’ and coagulates like blood. The plant is poisonous – both leaves and root. It can also ‘burn’ the skin of some people sensitive to its sap.
On a hike led by Marie, I learned that bloodroot was used by first nations as a dye or body paint and also for medicinal uses. There are still some medicinal uses for bloodroot, but I’m growing it for it’s beauty.
Bloodroot is a woodland ephemeral – meaning it blooms on the sunny forest floor before the trees put out leaves and will die down by the height of summer. It’s perfectly suited to deciduous shade or sun-dappled edges of the forest – or your garden. Unfortunately the charming blooms die immediately if picked, so they are not suited to being a cut-flower. However, if you have a shady spot in your garden, it’s a cheery harbinger of spring with blossoms that last through those first weeks of fresh weather. Even when the flowers disappear, these plants have sculptural, emerald green leaves that are deeply lobed and give beautifully textured ground cover at about 15-20cm height. The leaves will remain green and attractive for a some months as long as they are sheltered from the hot sun.
There are some plants that look great alone but bloodroot is not one of them. They look best in drifts or clumps since each plant is simply one flower and one leaf. Given the right moist, rich soil and leafy protection from deciduous trees, bloodroot will happily spread on it’s own.
Interestingly, bloodroot employs ants to disperse its seeds. When the ripe seeds drop, ants carry them off to their homes and consume the tasty attached layer. Unknowingly they have distributed and planted the still-viable seed. Bloodroot also spreads underground by rhizomes (underground stems that look like small, horizontal, orange tuber roots) so they appear like a single plant in a clump. Each year, the rhizome grows longer and branches to send out new plantlets. What you are really looking at is a small colony.
I’m off to buy bloodroot plants for my garden (I’m sourcing mine at Native Plants in Claremont (Pickering)- so they are ethically collected from local stock). I’m going to plant them in a ‘triangle’ and hope they spread and merge over the coming years. Bloodroot was more commonly found in this area before development – and we have the opportunity to reintroduce it in our gardens. It’s one of those natives that doesn’t ask for much but offers so much in return.
While I love seeing bloodroot on my hikes in Altona Forest, this native plant is so lovely that it deserves a place where I can enjoy it from my window! It’s just a bonus that these gorgeous blooms also support early native pollinators.
Do you plant native species? Native species are easy to add into your current garden and can be striking while supporting local wildlife. Here are some reasons you absolutely should add some native plants to your space:
- They are winter/drought hardy to your region
- They are generally low-maintenance
- They draw and support local wildlife in ways we never even considered
- They are beautiful… like bloodroot!
Resources ~ Begin Your Reading Here
- How to Grow Bloodroot
- Best Planting Practices
- Wiki About Bloodroot
- Bloodroot Profile and Map
- About Bloodroot
- Dispersal of Bloodroot Seeds
- First Nations Uses
- Ontario Wildflowers (an Ottawa Field Naturalists guide, it is a personal fave reference of mine for gardening)
Beautiful Bloodroot ~ © 2016 Natasha G