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U.S. Forest Service

Plant of the Week

Sanguisorba canadensis range map. Sanguisorba canadensis range map. USDA PLANTS Database.

Sanguisorba canadensis. Sanguisorba canadensis. All photos taken in Wilmington, Illinois, at seed production beds located at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, by Jen Durkin.

Sanguisorba canadensis. Sanguisorba canadensis. Photo by Jen Durkin.

Sanguisorba canadensis. Sanguisorba canadensis. Photo by Jen Durkin.

American Burnet (Sanguisorba canadensis)

By Sue Trull

American burnet is an herbaceous, perennial native to the United States and Canada. Its range extends north into Canada, south to Georgia, all the way to the eastern coast and west to Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee. The flower spikes resemble masses of white to pale green candles when grouped together. Conspicuous stamens give the flowers a “fuzzy” appearance. The flowers can appear from June to October, depending on its location. It is one of the last flowers to bloom in the northern part of its range.

This native perennial, a member of the Rosaceae family, is listed as threatened or endangered in nine U. S. states. Its native habitat is wet, swampy areas and bogs. Like most prairie plants, it thrives in full sun.

American burnet grows from two to five feet tall, with alternate, compound leaves consisting of 7 to 15 leaflets that concentrate around the base of the plant. In the fall, the leaves can turn reddish-yellow, in stark contrast to the white of the flower.

The genus name, “sanguis” originates from the Latin word for blood and “sorbere”, which translates as “to drink up”, as the plant sap was believed to be a remedy to stop bleeding many years ago. The common name, “burnet” is an old English word for the color, brown, because the European relative of this plant, European great burnet, has reddish-brown flowers. It is sometimes known by the common name Canadian burnet.

Some believe parts of this plant can be poisonous, but sensitivity to the plant varies with factors, including age, size and individual immunity. During fruit set, single seeds emerge from four-winged capsules upon maturity. American burnet flowers produce abundant pollen and nectar and attract various bees. Bees seem to be always hovering nearby and are believed to pollinate the flowers.

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