For me, in many ways, Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) defines the term “spring ephemeral”. In the Carolina Piedmont, March often brings a streak of warm summer-like days and in any year, the peak bloom of Bloodroot may come and go in less than a week. Miss that week, and you have to wait another year to enjoy this icon of spring!
Bloodroot blossoms emerge from the leaf-litter of forest floors as soon as late February. (In the Carolinas and the neighboring Great Smoky Mountains, peak bloom times for Bloodroot will vary with elevation.) A pair of pale green sepals fall away from pure white flower buds as blossoms emerge, warmed by bright sunshine and protectively wrapped in lobed green leaves.
Each flower rises a few inches above the forest floor on slender stalks before the forest canopy unfolds. Blossoms are fragile and fleeting and close each afternoon. Bloodroot responds to both temperature and light and blossoms reopen the following morning only if the weather meets their approval.
From year to year spring weather is unpredictable. Cool spells suspend the bloom season and strong showers may tatter delicate blossoms. Persistence is required to catch this showy species at its best.
My favorite Bloodroot destination is Van Landingham Glen, a 7 acre shady native plant garden and a highlight of the UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens. Here you can enjoy drifts of thousands (Count them!) of blossoms forming carpets along a stream at the west end of the Glen. It is a sight not to be missed.
While most blossoms have 8 to 12 petals, it is not uncommon to spot flowers with more than a dozen. Pure white petals contrast beautifully with bright yellow stamens and both petals and stamens are complimented by pale green leaves that reach their full size only after blossom petals drop and seed pods begin to swell.
The name Bloodroot is derived from the reddish sap of the roots which contains protective (for the root) poisonous alkaloids. Extracts of these roots were used as dyes by Native Americans and there is a long history of medical uses of Sanguinaria extracts.