Bloodroot is a perennial flowering plant that is the sole representative of its genus, Sanguinaria. It goes by many other names, including puccoon, red puccoon, tetterwort, redroot and Indian paint. Bloodroot grows in the eastern United States and parts of Canada. Native Americans found many applications for bloodroot, including medical uses. The safety and validity of bloodroot's medicinal uses for such things as cancer treatment are still under investigation.
The flower the bloodroot produces possesses a distinct gold center surrounded by delicate, long, white petals. The flower grows on a single long stalk, and the plant can be as tall as 10 inches. Bloodroot has just one leaf but it is large, often as wide as 8 inches, and grows from the base of the plant. It seems to wrap itself around the flower stalk like a cape. The flower will close when night falls and open up again when the sun rises.
Bloodroot grows in the rich soil of shady woodlands and in places such as along a roadside. While it can grow in direct sunlight, most specimens thrive in the shade. It is a common plant of the eastern half of North America, from Nova Scotia to Manitoba and from Florida as far west as Arkansas.
The bloodroot flower will bloom each year, blossoming as soon as the weather becomes warm, in many instances long before the winter is officially over. In the more northerly parts of its range, the bloodroot flower will bloom a bit later. It will still emerge much earlier than almost all other surrounding flowers, and no later than the beginning of spring.
American Indians had multiple uses for bloodroot, with the production of colored dyes from the root itself a primary one. It was also an important medicinal plant and used to treat such ailments as ulcers, skin infections, rheumatism and ringworm. The value of this plant in the treatment of cancer is under investigation. Bloodroot produces a toxin called sanguinarine, which can kill living cells. However, using it as a "home remedy" against such ailments as skin cancer may leave an individual with severe scarring, and the United States Food and Drug Administration lists bloodroot extracts presented as cures for cancer as something that consumers should avoid.
The plant takes its name from its root, which is a rhizome, a sort of underground stem from which functional roots branch off and into the soil. The rhizome is thick and is a deep orange-red color, hence the name. It is possible to grow bloodroot by cutting the rhizomes into 2-inch sections, ensuring that there is a bud on the rhizome and then planting the entire rhizome, bud and all, as deep as 2 inches under the soil.