This section is from the book "Nature's Garden", by Neltje Blanchan. Also available from Amazon: Nature's Garden; An Aid To Knowledge Of Our Wild Flowers And Their Insect Visitors.
Flowers - Pure white, rarely pinkish, golden centred, 1 to 1 1/2 in. across, solitary, at end of a smooth naked scape 6 to 14 in. tall. Calyx of 2 short-lived sepals; corolla of 8 to 12 oblong petals, early falling; stamens numerous; 1 short pistil composed of 2 carpels. Leaves: Rounded, deeply and palmately lobed, the 5 to 9 lobes often cleft. Rootstock: Thick, several inches long, with fibrous roots, and filled with orange-red juice.
Preferred Habitat - Rich woods and borders; low hillsides.
Flowering Season - April - May.
Distribution - Nova Scotia to Florida, westward to Nebraska.
Snugly protected in a papery sheath enfolding a silvery-green leaf-cloak, the solitary erect bud slowly rises from its embrace, sheds its sepals, expands into an immaculate golden-centred blossom that, poppy-like, offers but a glimpse of its fleeting loveliness ere it drops its snow-white petals and is gone. But were the flowers less ephemeral, were we always certain of hitting upon the very time its colonies are starring the woodland, would it have so great a charm? Here to-day, if there comes a sudden burst of warm sunshine; gone to-morrow, if the spring winds, rushing through the nearly leafless woods, are too rude to the fragile petals - no blossom has a more evanescent beauty, none is more lovely. After its charms have been displayed, up rises the circular leaf-cloak on its smooth reddish petiole, unrolls, and at length overtops the narrow, oblong seed-vessel. Wound the plant in any part, and there flows an orange-red juice, which old-fashioned mothers used to drop on lumps of sugar and administer when their children had coughs and colds. As this fluid stains whatever it touches - hence its value to the Indians as a war-paint - one should be careful in picking the flower. It has no value for cutting, of course; but in some rich, shady corner of the garden, a clump of the plants will thrive and bring a suggestive picture of the spring woods to our very doors. It will be noticed that plants having thick rootstocks, corms, and bulbs, which store up food during the winter, like the irises, Solomon's seals, bloodroot, adder's tongue, and crocuses, are prepared to rush into blossom far earlier in spring than fibrous-rooted species that must accumulate nourishment after the season has opened.
A newly opened flower which is in the female stage has its anthers tightly closed, and pollen must therefore be carried from distinct plants by the short-tongued bees and flies out collecting it. No nectar rewards their search, although they alight on young blossoms in the expectation of finding some food, and so cross-fertilize them. Late in the afternoon the petals, which have been in a showy horizontal position during the day, rise to the perpendicular before closing to protect the flower's precious contents for the morrow's visitors. In the blossom's staminate stage, abundant pollen is collected by the hive bees chiefly; but those of the Ha/ictus tribe, the mining bees and the Syrphidce flies also pay profitable visits. Inasmuch as the hive bee is a naturalized foreigner, not a native, the bloodroot probably depended upon the other little bees to fertilize it before her arrival. For ages this bee's small relatives and the flowers they depended upon developed side by side, adapting themselves to each other's wants. Now along comes an immigrant and profits by their centuries of effort.
Blood Root. (Sanguinaria Canadensis.)