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Plant of the week: Sanguinaria canadensis - Bloodroot

Sanguinaria canadensis, Bloodroot, bloodwort, red puccoon root and pauson

Family: Papaveraceae

Hardiness: Zone 39

Cultivars: Single, Double Form named under different names including Multiplex, Flore-Plena, Plena and a pink form.

Height: 20-50cm

Spread: will spread to form a ground cover over time.

Bloom Time: March-May (May in Nova Scotia). Plants start to bloom before the foliage unfolds in early spring. There are eight to twelve petals on the single form. The large showy flowers of the double form last much longer than the single form. After blooming the leaves expand to their full size and depending on the amount of shade, they often go dormant in late summer.

Growing: Sanguinaria canadensis prefers moisture-retentive, well drained, humus-rich soil that is slightly acidic. It needs sunlight only in the spring; therefore, the plant will grow in the shade formed by deciduous trees. It is wonderful planted under trees such as Magnolia or Cornus whose roots will not compete. Once established it needs no special care, spreading abundantly. If the soil dries out, the plants go dormant early.

Propagation: Sanguinaria canadensis can be propagated both by seed and division. Self-sowing is aided by ants which carry the seeds off to their nests, where they have time to germinate in ideal conditions. Or you can just scatter the seed in either prepared beds or among the leaves and debris on your forest floor. Make sure the seeds are planted fresh. You will have to watch the seedpods as they tend burst open before you can harvest them. The double form is sterile however, which is why they are so expensive.

Both the single and double can be easily divided spring, or fall. To divide the rhizomes, cut them into vertical sections, two inches in length, making sure there is at least one bud attached. There can be many buds on one rhizome. Plant the rhizome pieces deep enough to cover the top of the rhizome with one to two inches of soil.

Sanguinaria Canadensis gets its common name Bloodroot from the red rhizome tissue. It was a popular red natural dye used by Native Americans. It was also a traditional medicine used by many Native Americans to treat fever and rheumatism and skin infections. Currently, bloodroot is being studied for use as an anti-cancer agent, particularly for the treatment of skin cancer. It is also used in toothpaste as an anti-plaque compound.

Most of the active constituents of bloodroot is stored in the rhizome. This sap is very toxic. It contains morphine like compounds and also destroys animal tissue.

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