Plants - Native Plants and Wildflowers

Natural selection: Bloodroot

A member of the poppy family, this flowering perennial is native from Nova Scotia to Manitoba.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
  • Zone 3
  • Native from Nova Scotia to Manitoba


Our native bloodroot, named for the orange-red sap its rhizomes exude when bruised or cut, is a member of the poppy family (Papaveraceae) and the only species in its genus.

In the early spring, tightly furled leaves give rise to flower buds that produce eight pure white petals that surround its golden stamens. Once the blooms have been fertilized, the petals drop and the attractive grey-green foliage expands to hide the maturing seed pods. Bloodroot associates well with other springtime natives, such as Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) and red trilliums, and prefers moist woodland soil with plenty of organic matter in part to full shade.

To maintain vigour, divide congested clumps every three years while plants are dormant (early autumn or late winter). A highly variable species, the semidouble form (with up to 16 petals) was first documented in 1732 by German botanist Johann Jacob Dillenius, while the show-stopping 60-petal type (sold as “Multiplex”) was discovered in Dayton, Ohio, in 1916.

A refined form of bloodroot’s main alkaloid, sanguinarine, is used commercially as a plaque-inhibiting agent in toothpastes and mouthwashes. First Nations artists used the root sap as a dye, particularly in the construction of traditional river-cane (Arundinaria gigantea, Zone 5) basketry.

Want more information on native plants? Evergreen, a national charity that makes cities more livable, has a comprehensive database. Check it out at

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