Find out how to tend to this springtime plant from home.
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bloodroot flowers tubers rhizomes
Credit: Ryan Mesina

When the ground has thawed and the trill of warblers rings through the trees, be on the lookout for bloodroot. Yes, they have a dramatic name, but bloodroot flowers are actually delicate, enchanting, and very easy to cultivate. Floating above leaf-covered landscapes starting in March, their buds whisper a wonderful little secret: Spring is here. One of the first ephemerals to appear in woodlands each year, this native poppy relative gets its name from the red sap inside its rootlike rhizome. It emerges with its foliage wrapped like a protective cocoon around the stem, before unfurling like a butterfly's wings when its flower opens. Soon after, the luminous white or pink blooms attract local residents: Native bees zoom to their enticing yellow stamens, pollinating them, and later on ants help disperse their seeds. Here's how to grow these fleeting beauties at home.

Find a shady spot.

Bloodroot occurs naturally in dappled forests, so choose a location that gets partial sun in spring and more shade in summer after the trees leaf out. The soil should be moist, well-drained, and rich in humus (a nutrient-packed mix of decayed organic matter). In the fall, top-dress the area with compost, or mulch it with shredded leaves.

Select other seasonal plants.

Bloodroot pairs well with other seasonal ephemerals. Consider plants like claytonia, hepatica, trilliums, dog-tooth violets, and jack-in-the-pulpits. It's also a good companion for ferns, whose fuzzy fiddleheads start poking up around the same time.

Plan for next year.

To start a new patch or share existing ones with friends, divide rhizomes in the fall, when they are dormant. Locate the "eyes," or buds, and slice the rootstock so you have several on each cutting. Very important: Wear gloves for this job, since the sap contains a poisonous alkaloid called sanguinarine. To plant bloodroot, bury each piece an inch or two below the soil, and mulch lightly with a layer of compost or composted leaves (avoid anything too heavy, which can cause the roots to rot). Bloodroot can reach up to a foot in height. Look for it at nurseries that specialize in native varieties.

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