Blood Root Valley

Bloodroot Valley Park

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

While this site’s name may hold a macabre intrigue, it actually refers to the bloodroot plants (Sanginaria canadensis) that thrive throughout the property. A member of the Poppy family (Papveraceae), the bloodroot is an early spring flower whose name recalls the deep red color of its sap. The plant grows best in moist, well-drained soils that are slightly acidic. For approximately one week, sometime between March and May, it produces a white flower blossom. The petals of the flower, usually between 7 and 12 in number, are so delicate that the blossoms often last only a day or two before a strong wind or a heavy spring shower destroys them. Other names for the plant include coon root, snakebite, sweet slumber, red root, corn root, tumeric, and tetterwort.

Over the centuries, bloodroot has proven to be an incredibly useful plant. Its abundant juice is such a potent dye that Native Americans used it for war paint. They also used the plant’s juice to dye baskets and to decorate weapons, tools, and clothing. European colonists were quick to follow suit, and they used the plant to dye cloth, particularly wool, which is notoriously hard-to-dye.

Use of the bloodroot was not limited to dyeing; it extended to medicine as well. Medicine men in various Native American tribes used the plant to treat ulcers and ringworm. In the 19th century, London physicians who learned of this practice began using bloodroot, in conjunction with other chemicals, to treat skin cancers. By the end of the 19th century, this treatment had been discontinued, but since the 1960s, other doctors in Europe and America have begun to use bloodroot to treat minor cancers of the nose and ear.

Even more recently, dentists have “discovered” bloodroot. In 1983, Vipont Laboratories (now known as Atrix Laboratories), located in Fort Collins, Colorado began marketing “Viadent” toothpaste and mouth rinse, both of which contained an extract of bloodroot said to be excellent for reducing the growth of plaque. The American Dental Association (ADA) has hailed the extract, called sanguinarine, as a promising plaque-fighter. Although its ultimate use remains to be determined, at least one dentist has noted that the bloodroot extract is “the best thing that’s happened since fluoride. What fluoride has done in fighting tooth decay, this material will do in preventing gum disease.”

Bloodroot Valley Park has the only wild population of this plant in all of Staten Island, and it also is home to other varieties of plant and animal life. The park is covered with natural vegetation comprised of mature forests, shrub thickets, open woodlands, old fields, meadows, and grasslands. Aside from the bloodroot, several rare wildflowers, including the blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides), Virginia waterleaf (Hyprophyllum virginicum), and sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata) can be found here. The area also supports hundreds of animal species and is used by several endangered or threatened bird species including the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) and red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus). It is one of only three sites in New York State inhabited by the arogos skipper (Atrytone arogos), a small butterfly listed by the New York State Natural Heritage Program as a rare element worthy of protection.

Bounded by Forest Hill Road, Eastman Avenue, and Manor Road, the City gave Parks this property in 1994. Bloodroot Valley Park is part of the Greenbelt, the largest subsystem of parks in New York City. The Greenbelt was established in 1984 and covers nearly 3,000 acres in central Staten Island. Other parks in the system include High Rock Environmental Center and Greenbelt Headquarters, Greenbelt Native Plant Center, the William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge, LaTourette Park, and Willowbrook Park.

Kettle holes, steep hills, and large boulders show that the area was covered by ice 50,000 years ago, during the most recent Ice Age. The variety of soils deposited during the glacier’s passage now allow a diversity of plant and animal species to inhabit the region, and a variety of migratory birds to use the park as a resting place. The Greenbelt Conservancy, Inc., founded in 1989, helps Parks to protect and care for the Greenbelt, sponsoring weekend nature walks as well as other environmental education programs and festivals.

Directions to Blood Root Valley


    • Bloodroot Valley Park

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