Sanguinaria canadensis L.Poppy family (Papaveraceae) including Celandine Chelidonium majus, Bleeding Heart Dicentra eximia. 

A friend gave me some Bloodroot plants from a huge patch in her beautiful garden. This early spring flower takes advantage of sunlight before the top canopy leaves expand. I planted her gifts in my tiny condo yard and hope to “resee” new Bloodroot shoots next year. But I’m not much of a gardener. They are native but I haven’t found these plants in the woods near me.


Name: Sanguinaria, from Latin sanguis meaning ‘blood’, the color of the sap. Sanguine is still used today for an optimistic temperament. Canadensis, means ‘of Canada’ or probably a northern plant. Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) is the Swedish botanist who popularized the binomial nomenclature (naming a plant species only using two Latin names). Before Linnaeus more Latin descriptive terms (polynomial) were for scientific names. Each time a similar plant was discovered another Latin term was added to differentiate it. Very confusing. The “L.” at the end of the name indicates Linnaeus was the author or named and published this plant name in his Species plantarum first published in 1753. The name hasn’t changed since then. Yay!

Root system (rhizomes and roots) /Shoots (stems and leaves). Below: New growth coming out of the underground rhizome (stem) supported by roots that absorb water and nutrients. A basal leaf blade wraps around the petiole (stalk) of a single flower as it begins to open.

Below left: the “blood” red of a cut rhizome. Right: a cut petiole looks like a tiny murder scene.

Leaves open into twice lobed shapes.  The number of large lobes varies. Below: The palmate, netted venation is more prominent on the underside. Even the veins “bleed” if you cut them.

  • Palmate venation: like your palm. The major veins start from one place.
  • Pinnate venation: like a feather. The side veins grow out of one major midvein.
Flower (sepals, petals, stamens, pistil)

Sepals: Members of the poppy family usually have inconspicuous sepals. You will see them in bud but when the flowers start to open, they drop off immediately (caducous).  The duration of the calyx (all the sepals) is described in old botany books using more precise words.

  • Caducous or fugacious: falls off when the petals expand. (Bloodroot).
  • Deciduous: falls off right after fertilization. (Mustards).
  • Persistent: remains after the flower is fertilized and stays attached to the fruit. (Tomatoes, Strawberries).
  • Marcescent: persistent and looks shriveled or dried up. (Persimmons, Beech leaves).
  • Accrescent: persistent and continues to grow larger after flowering. (Hickories).

After I read this, I looked through my photos found one bud with sepals still attached. (red arrow/below left). Right: petals still closed but sepals gone.

Petals don’t last very long either. Bloodroots have a variable number of petals similar to the variable number of lobes on the leaves. They are also different lengths. Usually there are about 8 petals that sometimes look square (below left). 4-26-18. I wonder if they will evolve to be more consistent. It makes it hard for the identification books that count petals. Those pesky plants.

Stamens (filaments stalks and anthers to hold the pollen). After noting sepals and petals I look for the third whorl of a flowering plant: the male parts (stamens). Bloodroot rewards pollinators with pollen, not nectar. It has several distinct stamens with a defined filament and anther. They are basifixed with extrorse dehiscence. What? the anthers are attached to stalks at their bases (not in the middle like lilies) and open to release pollen away from the pistil. Canada Mayflower has introrse anthers that release pollen towards the pistil (see previous species post). Introrse, extrorse… Maybe a song.

Bloodroot adaptations guarantee the next generation vegetatively from their rhizomes in addition to both cross and self-pollination. The stigma ripens before the anthers (protogyny) which are flat for easy access and encourages cross pollination from another plant (above left). This creates genetic diversity. If the flower has not been pollinated by an insect, the stamens will begin to turn up in order to release pollen on its own stigma, that has ripened (above right). Self-pollination will cause a clone to grow but better than not being pollinated.

Reproductive parts of plants can ripen at different times to help prevent self-pollination.

  • Protandry: the anthers ripen before the stigma is ready to receive pollen
  • Protogyny: the stigma receptive before anthers release pollen

A few more great words:

  • Gynoecium: all the pistils, carpels, or female parts in one flower.
  • Androecium: all the stamens or male parts in one flower.

“Gyn” comes from the Greek word for woman or wife and “Andro” from the Greek word for man or male. And “ecium” is from the Greek word for house. In ancient Greece men and women lived in different houses. Variations of these words are used to describe the reproducive process and parts of plants.

Pistil: The center or 4th whorl is the female part of the flower where the fruit will form. The ovary narrows to a short style and 2-lobed stigma. The light green ovary is topped by a light-colored blobby stigma (below left). The petals and stamens fall off because they aren’t needed any more (middle).  The ripened ovary gets larger, the style (neck) lengthens, and the 2-lobed stigma darkens after fertilization (right). 5-3-18.

Fruit: The ripened ovary becomes a fruit protecting the seeds. A Bloodroot fruit is called a capsule because it isn’t fleshy and dehisces (opens) to release the seeds. Left: the capsule is fusiform (spindle shaped or narrow at both ends). 5-21-18. I cut across the pistil to show the 3-parted ovary filled with seeds. (right below).

Left: I was anxious to see the seeds and opened the capsule that weren’t ripe yet (left below). 5-3-18 They finally ripened (right) 5-23-18.

Seeds: The seeds have fleshy elaiosomes attached (below). From the Greek for “elaion” for oil and “soma” for body. Ants take the seeds to their nest, eat the elaiosomes and remove the seeds to their garbage area or away from the nest. Ant dispersal is called Myrmecochory. Myr’-me-co-cho’-ry. This one does not roll off my tongue.

Blood seeds





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