Today I noticed my first bloodroot plants (Sanguinaria canadensis, Papaveraceae) of the season growing in a local hardwood forest. Each plant has a single leaf and a single flower, and in mid-April they’re just starting to open up. By early May these short-lived spring ephemerals will be gone.
Bloodroot gets its name from the red sap stored in its rhizomes. These underground perennating organs store carbohydrates and water that fuel the above-ground growth. Rhizomes can spread out over an area and give rise to colonies of plants. Because of this, plants are often found clustered together. The sap in the rhizomes contains the toxin sanguinarine that is known to destroy animal cells.
Pollinators include bees and flies, while seed dispersion is conducted primarily by ants. Bloodroot seeds have protein-rich structures known as elaiosomes attached to them. Ants bring the seeds to their nests and larvae eat the elaisosomes, leaving the seeds to germinate.