The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 6, 2005



photo by Kay Fairweather

Name: Bloodroot is Sanguinaria canadensis and is native to the woods of southern Canada and eastern U.S. down to Florida. It is a member of the poppy family. The common name refers to the orange-red sap that exudes from cut roots and stems. The plant has quite a lot of common names including red puccoon, puccoon-root, coonroot, redroot, and red Indian paint. (Puccoon is a word of Algonquin origin.)

When and where seen: Last year Tom Brownrigg alerted me to a patch of Bloodroot at the Carlisle Conservation Foundation land (at the sign of the owl) on Curve Street. I found them when they were no longer flowering. This year, I found them in full bloom on April 29. They have a relatively short blooming period but with a large patch like this there will probably still be some blooming the weekend of May 7 and 8. Bloodroot likes rich slightly acid woodland soil. We have a lot of these conditions in Carlisle but this is the only place I have seen Bloodroot in the wild.

Identification: Bloodroot is very easy to identify. It blooms early in the spring with a single white flower that sits above the leaf somewhat in the manner of a water lily. The flower has yellow stamens and 8 to 12 white petals and is about two inches across. The leaves are more or less round with deep indentations creating several lobes. When the flower is gone, the leaf continues to grow and towers above the upright spindle-shaped seed pod. The underground stem or rhizome can be up to an inch thick and four inches long.

Medicinal: Give yourself a break — go to Pub Med, the online source of biomedical information developed by the National Center for Biotechnical Information. A search on Sanguinaria will fetch numerous articles about medicinal uses of Bloodroot. The rhizome contains several alkaloids which can affect the heart, the nervous system and muscles — and while all the alkaloids in Bloodroot can be found in other members of the poppy family, not all of the alkaloids in other poppies are found in Bloodroot. They're not growing Bloodroot in Afghanistan. Native Americans, in addition to using Bloodroot for war paint, used it as an emetic. A recent use of the main active ingredient, sanguinarine, is in the Viadent brand of toothpaste and mouthwash for periodontitis.

Cultivation: Bloodroot is an interesting plant for the wild natural style of garden. Don't even think of collecting it from the wild — why get blood on your hands when you can get the plant at Blanchette's for less than $10? Once you get some established, they will self-sow and you can also propagate them by root division.

References: Carol H. Woodward and H. W. Rickett, New York Botanical Garden's Field Guide to Common Wildflowers of the Northeastern United States; Edward P. Claus, Pharmacognosy; Pub Med at; Abigail Redmond, Medical Attributes of Sanguinaria Canadensis at

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito