How to Grow Bloodroot

Blood flowers in bloom

The Spruce / David Beaulieu

Known to botanists as Sanguinaria canadensis, bloodroot plants are herbaceous perennials that spread using rhizomes to form colonies under the right conditions. They are indigenous to eastern North America but beware: These are poisonous plants.

Bloodroot's flowers don't last for long; blink, and you've missed the display. But if you're lucky enough to have a colony of them, the impact of such a mass of flowers is powerful while it lasts. Moreover, the leaves―which stick around for a much longer time than the flowers―bear an intriguing shape and color.

Bloodroot plants are considered spring ephemerals. In a nutshell, spring ephemerals don't hang around for long; they take care of business in spring and then retire until next year.

Bloodroot is a great choice for a woodland garden. It also works well in a shade garden that receives partial sun in spring, but that becomes shadier in summer when the nearby trees leaf out. Plant bloodroot in spring or fall; like many rhizomes or bulbs, seasonal bloodroot grows quickly in spring.

Botanical Name Sanguinaria canadensis
Common Name Bloodroot, bloodwort, red puccoon, Indian paint, puccoon
Plant Type  Perennial rhizome
Mature Size 5-12 in. tall, up to 10 in. wide
Sun Exposure Full-shade, partial-shade
Soil Type Well-draining
Soil pH 5.5-6.5
Bloom Time Early spring
Flower Color White or pale-pink petals with yellow centers
Hardiness Zones 3-8 (USDA)
Native Area Eastern United States, Eastern Canada
Toxicity Highly toxic to humans and animals

Bloodroot Care

Bloodroot bears a single flower of a relatively impressive size: 2-inches, on a plant that reaches only 8-inches in height when in bloom (and, at most, about 1-foot by mid-summer). The flower has white petals and yellow stamens. These delicate blossoms pucker up at night and on cloudy days, which is unfortunate, considering that their lifespan can be as short as a day or two. They are among the earliest spring flowers.

Just as plants put out but a single bloom, they also bear but a single leaf. And as with the flower, this basal leaf is relatively large for such a small perennial and becomes even larger in summer (up to 10 inches wide). It is an attractive leaf, gray-green in color (underside paler than the upper side), rounded, with deep lobes, and decorated with showy veins.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of bloodroot's appearance is the way the plant emerges from the ground in spring. The unopened leaf envelops the flower bud as if sheltering its baby in swaddling clothes from the still chilly temperatures of early spring. The leaf slowly unfurls, and the flower eventually peels off from it to strike out on its own short life.

The genus name, Sanguinaria means "pertaining to blood" in Latin and refers to the reddish-orange sap emitted by the plants. The common name "bloodroot" (alternatively, "bloodwort") alludes to the same feature as the botanical name: the color of the sap that emanates from the plant (especially the roots).

Light

Bloodroot's habitat in the wild is typically on moist slopes or along stream beds in deciduous forests. In the landscape, locate it in an area that will receive some sun in spring but that will be at least partially shaded in summer. This stipulation readily suggests bloodroot as a plant you can grow under deciduous trees. You'll have less success growing it on the north side of a house because the shade cast by a structure is more or less constant (unlike the shade cast by deciduous trees).

Soil

Provide bloodroot plants with a well-drained, acidic soil enriched with hummus.

Water

When first planted, water bloodroot adequately to get them established. Then, water twice a week to keep the soil from drying out.

Temperature and Humidity

Bloodroot thrives in a cool, not-too-hot climate. It grows in USDA Hardiness zones 3–8.

Fertilizer

No commercial fertilizer necessary for your bloodroot; a layer of compost, spread around the outskirts of your bloodroot, is all that's needed.

Is Bloodroot Toxic?

Even though it's an alternative medicine staple, bloodroot contains the poisonous alkaloid sanguinarine, therefore all parts of bloodroot are dangerous for humans or animals to consume.

Symptoms of Poisoning

If the plant or sap is ingested, people and animals may experience dizziness, stomach issues, heart irregularity, dilated pupils, or fainting. Additionally, it may cause tissue damage if it touches skin. Call 911 immediately for humans or your veterinarian ASAP for pets.

Propagating Bloodroot

Dividing the rhizomes in spring (after they bloom) or in the fall is an easy way to propagate bloodroot. Dig up your plants, separate the clump, and replant rhizomes in a shady location, two to threeseparated in each hole, positioned horizontally in the soil.

How to Grow Bloodroot From Seed

Bloodroot can also be grown from seed, which you will need to gather yourself. Oblong seedpods can be covered with mesh to capture the seeds as they mature. They will pop out when they're ready. Fresh seeds need to be planted before they dry out! Sow seeds in seedbeds, covering with mulch. Water regularly, as it make take until next year to see them germinate. Once they've grown rhizomes, they can be planted outside.

Common Pests/Diseases

Bloodroot rarely attracts too much trouble, but occasionally slugs come to play. To get rid of them, set beer traps for them to drown in.