The red-sapped rhizome that gives this plant one of its common names contains some caustic substances (perhaps accounting for the native American use of this plant as a emetic.) They also are said to have used the “blood” as a war paint or skin “tattoo”.
I used to demonstrate this on field trips by digging a bloodroot rhizome, breaking it in two to show the oozing red interior (I once had a student become faint from seeing this gore) and paint a red-orange stripe across my forehead. Very dramatic. Very stupid, I’ve learned since.
The sap contains the toxin sanguinarine. Recently, some ill-advised breast cancer patients used bloodroot sap topically, and developed disfiguring skin lesions.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about bloodroot is a feature it shares with two other very early-blooming plants, Dutchman’s Breeches, and Trillium. They all exhibit myrmecochory and produce elaiosomes.
What? These aren’t familiar words? Don’t you just love botanists for the way they wield Latin and Greek to their advantage and the obfuscation of others?
Very simply, these plants produce a little nutrition treat called an ELAIOSOME attached to their tiny seeds. These are “intentionally” attractive to ants, who gather the seeds, feed the treat to their young, then dispose of the actual living seed in their nutrient rich frass, or waste bin.
In a week or so, I’ll see if I can show you a closeup of a dissected Bloodroot seedpod and enlarged leaf to compare to the tiny leaf wrapped now around just the base of the single flower.