Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Blood in the Garden

One of my favorite spring wildflowers is blood root, Sanguinaria canadensis.  It's a common woodland wildflower found all over North American from Manitoba to Texas and eastward to the coast, named for the bright red sap that leaks out of the cut roots.

Blood root in bloom in my garden.
Every spring woodlands explode a carpet of white anemone-like flowers that arise along with the leaves that are rolled into tubes as they emerge from the ground.  The flowers last a few days before the wind scatters the petals to the ground like miniature magnolias.  The scalloped leaves unfurl and are very distinct, looking like no other foliage around them.

Blood root makes a great addition to the shade garden as well.  Clumps get to be about 8" tall and 10" wide over time and the foliage persists throughout the season and blends well with other shade plants like hostas, ferns, corydalis etc.  Any soil seems to be fine as long as it isn't too wet, but it prefers organic-rich soil with good drainage.  It self-seeds readily without being a nuisance.  The seeds are spread by ants which are attracted to the eliasome, which is a fatty structure attached to the seed.  Ants eat the eliasome and discard the seed, often carrying it some distance.

Blood root foliage seen with another favorite wildflower, Hepatica.
If you don't have blood root in the garden, give it a try!  The flowers don't last long, but they really brighten the garden while they're blooming and it's hard not to smile when you see them.  There's even a form with double flowers, but mine hasn't bloomed yet so I don't have a picture.  If anyone every finds a variegated one, let me know!

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