Sanguinaria canadensis f. multiplex

the Double Bloodroot

Ode to one of the most beautiful flowers on earth

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The plant Sanguinaria
This website is specifically dedicated to the double Sanguinaria canadensis, officially named forma multiplex, but sometimes mentioned 'Flora Plena', or 'Flore Pleno' or plena. Most of the issues are also valid for the common bloodroot: the single flowering Sanguinaria canadensis, which is growing as a wild flower in the United States of America and Canada.

Sanguinaria canadensis is an early flowering perennial. It gets through the winter with thick underground rhizomes. These rhizomes grow near the surface and sometimes even come above the ground a little.

By the end of March or early April thick flower buds appear and right after that a rolled up leaf.

During and after flowering the leaf is getting unfolded up to 25-30cm (10-12") tall. In spring and summer this lovely shaped silver-green leaf provides the rhizome with sufficient nutrition to let the rhizome grow and stuff it up full of energy to survive the winter. In the next spring again one or even two flower buds and leaves can develop from it.

Sanguinaria is a slow grower, the rhizomes spread only 5 to 7 centimeters (2-3") each year. Because the leaves can grow up to 20-25 centimeter (8-10") in diameter, there are about 9 plants needed to get a square meter filled up quite nice after 3-4 years. And after that it only becomes more and more beautiful!
Because all male and female reproduction organs have been transformed into petals, the Double Bloodroot is sterile. While no seed is formed, it can only be propagated by deviding the rhizomes. Which is a very slow process and therefore this plant isn't cheap.

Care of Sanguinaria
This very special and hardy plant likes a humid (not wet) and well draining soil with a high humus content on a shady to semi-shady spot. When there is a long dry period during summer, you should take care of some extra water, otherwise the leaves will die back quite early.
If the plant has sufficient (but not too much!) water available, then the leaves will normally start to die back in the 2nd part of August. They slowly turn yellow and the last nutrition is pulled out of them, into the rhizomes. See the picture below.

When you grow Sanguinaria in pots or containers, you should replace a part of the soil about every 3 years. Remove the remainings of old, died back rhizomes and devide the healty parts. Replant them with a couple of centimeters distance between them.
The best time to do this job is just after the last leaves died back, in the 2nd part of September or early October.

Sanguinaria, what's in a name?
The common name of Sanguinaria canadensis is "bloodroot". The plant thanks it's name to the blood red sap that's in the rhizome and flows out when the breakable rhizome is getting devided or damaged on another way. When the red sap dries up, it forms a layer of protection on the wound, so that infections get less chance. Actually just like a blood scab from human beings.

"Sanguinaria" is derived from the Latin word for blood: sanguis.
"canadensis" already lets you think that the plant originates from Canada, but it's spread over the entire East part of North-America, from Canada to Florida.

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This is an other very distinctive form: the Sanguinaria canadensis 'Star'. The cultivar name 'Star' refers to the characteristic star-shaped flowers. It is extremely hard to get.

The discovery of Sanguinaria canadensis f. multiplex
In their book 'Cuttings from a rock garden' (ISBN 0-88192-377-X) late Mr. and Mrs. Foster from the U.S.A. tell in their beloved stories and plant profiles the remarkable history of this special plant. It seems that we are very very lucky that Sanguinaria canadensis forma Multiplex has been saved for us plant enthousiasts! The Fosters did a lot of research to recover the final source.

Here are the most important parts of their story:
Mr. Guido von Webern had a perceptive eye and a love of nature. In 1916 he was attracted by a seven acre tract of land at the corner of North Main Street and Turner Road in Dayton, Ohio, about four miles north of the center of the city. He bought the property because of the beauty of its terrain, which included a steep slope covered with splendid trees, a site likely as the setting for wild flowers, a particular delight of his.
In spring when he inspected what he had purchased, he discovered to his joy, among a clump of Sanguinaria canadensis, a solitairy plant with fully doubled blossoms. Because of his acquaintance with the native flora and his amateur knowledge of botany, Mr. von Webern realized that he had spotted an unusual mutation. It was a small, spindly plant; so, without disturbing it, he marked its location and protected it.
By 1919 the plant had increased to a vigorous clump, large enough to divide.

Photo courtesy of Bob Gutowski

Mr. von Webern sent a division of the plant to the Arnold Arboretum in the autumn of that year.

In the "Gardeners Chronicle", series 3, vol. 73, p. 283, May 1923, H.E. Wilson, director of the Arnold Arboretum, described this plant, the Double Bloodroot, as Sanguinaria canadensis var. multiplex.
In 1931 Weatherby made it a form rather than a variety and in botanical literature today it would be listed: Sanguinaria canadensis
Linnaeus forma multiplex (Wilson) Weatherby.
In his article Wilson mentioned that Dillenius in 1732 had illustrated a "Sanguinaria major flore pleno" in his "Hortus Elthamensis", vol. 2, p. 334, plate 252, fig. 326. This plant apparently had 14-16 petals, only double the normal number, whereas Mr. von Webern's plant had the multiplication of the petals carried to a greater extent so that even the stamens and carpels were transformed into petals, hense the name "multiplex".

Mr. von Webern's plant is no longer growing at the Arnold Arboretum, nor was the plant apparently formally accessioned in the Arboretum collections, but Mr. von Webern's widow, presently Mrs. Thomas, has preserved the letter of acknowledgment from the Arboretum.
She reported recently that the original plant on the Dayton property suffered either from neglect or depredations of one kind or another until it ceased to exist in 1966.
After his gift to the Arnold Arboretum and before the demise of the plant in Dayton, Mr. von Webern gave divisions to two friends.
One of the plants soon died and the fate of the other has not been traced, but from neither source is it likely that the plant got into general horticulture.

Here is where the Fosters went off the track and were led to make the following assumption:
The Arnold Arboretum has no record of having distributed the plant, but this seems the most likely origin of the completely double-blossomed form of the Bloodroot that is found here and there in connoisseurs' gardens.

Soon after this publication, the Fosters received a letter from M. Henry Teuscher, Emeritus Director of the Montreal Botanical Garden.
In the letter this great plantsman identified himself as the second friend to whom von Webern had sent a division of this prized Sanguinaria.
It was Henry Teuscher who propagated this original clone and distributed it to various arboreta and horticulturists in America and abroad, and it is to him that all gardeners owe a dept, not only for this generous action, but for many others before and after.


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