Sunday, February 20, 2011

Getting ready for the Show - bringing the "Canada Puccoon" into bloom.

In just three weeks we'll be setting up our native plants pollinator garden at Canada Blooms. I found that there were several challenges getting ready for this.

First, where to get plants? If you want to decorate your garden with tulips or daffodils, lilacs or magnolias, the people at the show have a good variety of stock for sale which is forced into bloom at just the right time by professionals. My problem was that the list of plants wasn't available until December, and I feared it wouldn't have many natives.

Sanguinaria canadensis bud
first signs - leaf wrapped around bud
So, in early October  I potted up about 40 Solomon's Seal, Monarda, Milkweed, and Bloodroot from my own garden and let them sit outside until we had a hard frost, so they would be fully dormant. I then moved them to a wire-mesh enclosure (to keep out hungry mice) in our unheated detached garage.

I also began looking for potted plants for sale. I ended up buying several flats of natives from Humber Nurseries, a very reliable grower not too far from where I work. Humber was willing to store the plants in one of their cold greenhouses until February, as I didn't have room in the garage for everything. I drove out and picked them up in several trips over the last 3 weeks.

Sanguinaria canadensis bud
bud emerging from leaf
Next challenge: how to bring them into bloom for March 15? - there are no instructions out there for doing this, the way there are for crocuses and tulips. I've been experimenting and will record some of the results over the next few weeks as we get ready for the show.

Sanguinaria canadensis growing
Sanguinaria canadensis bud white showing
Valentine's Day
On January 21,  I moved some blood- root pots from the garage to my cold greenhouse, which is usually 1-5°C at that time. This allowed the roots to thaw gradually and is my way of imitating late March in Toronto. On February 6th, there was NO sign of life in the pots but ever optimistic I moved one pot to a cool window in the kitchen, where temperatures may reach 18°C by day and 10-15°C by night. One week later the first shoots began to show, by Valentine's day there were white buds, and over the next few days they all opened. Now, on February 20 only one flower is still blooming but the beautiful leaves are just getting going.

Sanguinaria canadensis flower
sepals (green) open to reveal petals
So, what did I learn? It took about 3 weeks from thaw to bloom, but the flowers I got were a little thin. I suspect they were just a bit too warm the last 2-3 days before blooming, so for the next batch I'll move them to a cooler place once buds begin to show. Since I know a pot that looks good on March 15 will have dropped its petals by March 20, I will divide the two dozen pots I have into 6 groups, each one day behind the next so I'll have a continuous supply of flowers throughout the show. Then once the show is over, I'll try to keep the plants quite cool with a goal to putting them outside in mid-April. They should be nicely hardened off by the time of our benefit Plant Fair and ready to move into new homes.

Sanguinaria canadensis flowers finishing
full bloom - click to enlarge
Bloodroot is known by many common names - my favorite is "Canada Puccoon" - so the best way to find it on the web is to use its scientific name, Sanguinaria canadensis. It's a beautiful and undemanding early spring wildflower, while the leaves make an excellent 6-12" groundcover in shady places most of the rest of the season. The name refers to the orange-red sap, which contains the toxic compound Sanguinarine. Although the web contains reports of native herbal uses of bloodroot, I urge extreme caution: the toxin is very strong and there are cases of people suffering permanent skin damage (Journal of Alternative and Contemporary Medicine) from using salves and other formulations. The Wikipedia article gives more examples of uses and misuses. If you get sap on your skin when transplanting, use soap to clean it off promptly.

beautiful but short bloom in a warm house
Bloodroot flowers are pollinated by early native bees and some flies, but it isn't done with insect help then. The shiny black seeds have tasty fleshy bits called elaiosomes attached. Ants take the seeds into their nest, eat the elaiosomes, and leave the hard seeds alone, where they will sprout next spring enriched by the compost inside the nest and having been carried some distance away from Mom.

Bloodroot is a member of the huge Poppy family (Papaveraceae), and has a second-cousin relative in China called the snow poppy or dawn poppy.


  1. I'm so impressed with your efforts. Good luck from now till then. I'll be at Canada Blooms and will check out the results.

  2. Really well done for the blog.these are so sweet and pretty!
    Potted Plants