Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Bloodroot - Sanguinaria canadensis - Sanguinaire du Canada

Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot, fr: sanguinaire du Canada) is an herbaceous perennial from the family Papaveraceae. It, like many of the others I've talked about in the last week, has ant-dispersed seeds (myrmecochory), so its seeds have elaisomes. S. canadensis is bee-pollinated. The flowers senesce very quickly after pollination so the floral display is quite short-lived in this plant.

S. canadensis
Leaves are broad, rounded, highly variable in toothedness, and basal only. There is one flower on a single stalk on each plant. Petals are white, androecium is yellow. A readily identifiable plant in the early spring.

S. canadensis is called bloodroot because of the red juice found in its roots. This juice is composed mostly of sanguinarine, which is a pretty powerful toxin. Sanguinarine kills animal cells and has been known to result in serious scarring when applied to the skin and in death from ingestion. Please, do not mess about with the juice of this plant.

There are a few extremely preliminary studies which suggest the possibility that sanguinarine might be helpful in the treatment of cancer. However, these results are very preliminary indeed and DO NOT justify sanguinarine being touted as a cancer remedy; considerably more research is needed to determine if and how it could be used as a treatment for cancer. We simply do not know enough about it right now and people are more likely to do themselves harm than good trying to use sanguinarine to treat cancer. Note that S. canadensis is on the FDA list of false cancer 'cures' to be avoided.

S. canadensis
S. canadensis is secure in most of Canada but may be at risk in Manitoba. Be advised, therefore, that particularly if you are in Manitoba you should take care not to damage this plant unnecessarily.  S. canadensis, in the more southern part of its range in the US, is mostly unranked but listed as exploitatively vulnerable or special concern in two states.

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