Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis is the first flower to bloom in a spring garden. Within days of emerging from the soil, lovely two inch white flowers with yellow centers pop out, looking like miniature water lilies. They burst into bloom when the maple and box elder trees flower, around April in Minneapolis. Bloodroot is a native north American wildflower.
Plant bloodroot in moist, shady deciduous woods. Bloodroot grows in the wild throughout eastern North America. Each flower rises from a single stock and only blooms for a few days, but the colony will bloom for about two weeks.
Leave bloodroot undisturbed. Four inch lobed leaves unfurl after the flowers have dropped their petals. An elongated seed pod rises soon after. Ants carry the seeds away to eat the fleshy part, then place the seed in their nest debris. The seed germinates and your colony will grow.
Plant in the shade under deciduous trees (trees that drop their leaves in the fall). Your colony will bloom about the same week that box elder trees flower. Bloodroot is an ephemeral (ee-fem-ur-l), meaning the leaves will die down and go dormant over the summer. Place next to a shade plant like hosta that will fill in the space later in the summer. Deer do not eat the flowers as the plant contains a toxic poison nor are the plants bothered by insects or disease. This is a low maintenance plant.
Bloodroot flowers are one of the earliest pollen producing plants. Honeybees and pollinating flies cover the flowers when they open on sunny days. Bees need early blooming plants to sustain them before moving on to pollinate our cultivated plants in summer. Human development has greatly reduced habitat for native wildflowers, protect and nurture bees by planting bloodroot in your garden.
Wear gloves and wash hands after contact. Bloodroot is named for the orange/red rhizome (root) that contains a reddish sap. The root sap contains the toxin sanguinarine. This can burn skin tissue in sensitive people so care should be taken when transplanting. Native Americans used the sap for medicinal and ceremonial uses and combined the sap with oak tannin to create a colorfast yellow-orange dye.
Contact your local nature center to find out where you can visit established native colonies. It is an unforgettable sight to see a hillside covered in bloodroot flowers in spring.
Do not dig plants from the wild as bloodroot is considered endangered. Check with a local garden club or plant rescue organization that saves plants from development. Purchase plants from a garden center or internet catalog. Ask a shade gardening neighbor if they have some to share. Plant and grow bloodroot in your shady garden and you too can enjoy this enchanting spring delight.
When moving to a new house, wait to see what is in the gardens before making a change. Bloodroot and other spring ephemerals may be dormant underground.
Always wear gloves when transplanting bloodroot.
Never take internally or experiment with folk remedies.