Monday 3 July 2017

It was bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis

Answer to last month’s conundrum

The double form is especially prized
All the way from the woods of Missouri - I lie - this woodland  ‘ephemeral’ thrives in Peter’s Seaton Ross wood. It’s called an ephemeral because the flower and foliage does not last very long before it goes dormant. As a plant if it likes its situation it goes on forever if left undisturbed. Difficult for constant soil fluffers however.
I must say the response to my quiz was quite pathetic. In the end I prompted blogger Rick to solve it. Thanks for the interest Rick. It was clever of you to maintain the secret and carry out the correspondence in the very next post!
Let me walk you through Peter William’s puzzle.

This to me first appeared to be a boot! As soon as I refocussed it was a leaf

Its clearly a leaf here. My first assumption was that it is an example of guttation. This is the phenomenon where ‘root pressure’ forces out sap droplets in very humid conditions.
I was wrong. Peter with his inqisitive mind had wondered if the poisonous blood coloured alkaloid sap that gives sanguinaria it’s common name bloodroot came up to the leaves. He had cut them - and yes it does but it is much paler.

Another picture that requires you to refocus. It is not a fried egg or as suggested a mollusc. It’s a seed.
This is where the myrmecochory comes in. This is when a plant exploits ants to distribute seeds. The ant is rewarded by a small nutritious morsel called an elaiosome which persuades it to carry the seed home. Here the ‘white’ of the ‘egg’ is a wacking great big elaiosome - an ant's idea of a feast.

The mature seed pod makes your task clearer. It would be interesting to know how away from its home in Missouri  bloodroot gets pollinated. Various solitary bees might do the task in return for its nutritious pollen. It’s no good for honeybees as it does not produce nectar. Just as well because it might very well have been toxic.

Peter’s later pictures and hints how to grow bloodroot

Four single flowers all in a row. The flowers appear before the leaves

There is copious pollen

The beautiful scolloped leaves catch up later

The leaves remain until early Summer and the seed pod develops quickly
My own sanguinaria 

It was one of the early plants I planted in Bolton Percy cemetery forty years ago. It did not thrive but it has survived and in a good year it flowers. It has had a checkered history and not least it has suffered a nearby ever expanding Leyland cypress. Forgive me I propagated and planted the monster. Over the years the patch got drier and darker and too close to competing vegetation. I thought the bloodroot was gone. What has gone now is the wretched Leyland - it has been chopped down. I was delighted that my bloodroot has reappeared and has celebrated by flowering. Sorry I missed it!

Bloodroot is poisonous and is subject to quackery
If you 'goggle' to find bloodroot, search for sanguinaria. Otherwise you will find dubious adverts for very dangerous concoctions. I don’t want to be responsible. As a garden plant it is perfectly safe to handle.

Dutchman's breeches
I have written before about my own favourite woodland ephemeral Dicentra cucullaria. Eight weeks after it has appeared it is gone! That too has poisonous rhizomes and American farmers used to call it stagger weed. It is my most loved plant.


The original quiz
Rick's answer in comments
Cutting down the Leyland
My post about Dicentra cucullaria


  1. Lots of seemingly benign plants have poisonous parts don't they?

    1. Apparently every part of a tomato plant is poisonous except the fruit. And think how deadly beautiful oleanders are if eaten. Everything from botanical fruits such as arums to toadstools.
      Fortunately accidents are rare. Worry more about diesel fumes.
      Did you see Robert Pavlov's article recently Apparently rhubarb stalks contain almost as much oxalic acid as the leaves - and if their leaves are poisonous its not the oxalic acid.

    2. Whoops the spell checker changed Robert Pavlis's name and it tried too again - very sneaky. And everytime I typed sanguinaria it became sanguinary.

    3. Welcome it my world. I daren't repeat what autocorrect has done to some of my typing.

  2. I think bloodroot actually lasts longer than it is given credit for. Bob Brown refers to it as the "shopping plant" in the sense of don't even go shopping when it is in flower! It likes a semi shaded spot without too much competition and the leaves last for ages and are an attractive silvery colour. You just need to find the right spot for it, I have grown it in 3 different places and I reckon that a bit of elbow room is the most critical factor.

    1. I agree with Pauline’s view about the length of time for which bloodroots remain interesting in the garden. Bob Brown is a very knowledgeable nurseryman but he does make silly/controversial utterances on occasion. I recently hear one of his talks where he showed an image of a third-rate specimen of Magnolia soulangeana and suggested that magnolias were all so poor that no serious gardener would grow them!
      Getting back to bloodroots, it is true that individual flowers last for just a few days, but they are produced over a period of two or three weeks, and the developing flowering shoot is very attractive as it pushes through the soil or litter layer in March. Each flower is ‘wrapped’ in the lateral lobes of an olive-green leaf that slowly unfolds to display the flower beautifully. When the flowers die, the leaves continue to expand and look attractive in their own right until the middle of summer. If the plant is sited out of the wind, it will be a true delight in early spring for possibly a month, or perhaps a little longer.

    2. Thanks for your comments Pete. You have mastered the first stage in making comments! Much appreciated.

  3. The lowly bloodroot plant holds great promise and it is NOT quackery. These articles are in peer reviewed journals that I accessed through the National Institutes of Health PubMed portal.
    Gaziano, et. Al. (2016). Antitumor effects of the benzophenanthridine alkaloid sanguinarine: Evidence and perspectives. World Journal of Gastrointestinal Oncology, 8(1), 30-39.

    Cecen, et. Al. (2015). Apoptic effects of sanguinarine on the organ of cort 1 cells: comparison with cisplatin. Journal of International Advanced Otology, 11(1), 19-22.


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