Bloodroot. Sanguinaria canadensis.
Papaveraceae, the poppy family.

Plant: Solitary white flowers on slender stems rise beside a lobed leaf.
Flowers: White, with 8-10 petals and yellow-orange center of many stamens, to 1.5". Two sepals that fall off as flower opens, and are thus usually not apparent.
Leaves: Single basal leaf, round, palmately lobed or scalloped, rising beside, and sometimes wrapping around flower stem, 4"-6".
Fruit: Two-part capsule.
Blooming: April-May
Habitat: Deciduous woods.

Comments: A delicate, early spring flower, often found in extended colonies. The name comes from the acrid red-orange sap in the roots (actually rhizomes) and stems. This juice has been used as a temporary dye, though it fades quickly once dry. The plant produces a toxic agent, sanguinarine, that can destroy tissue if applied to the skin, resulting in a scab and possible scarification. Applying the juice to the skin as paint is thus not recommended. The compound also has anti-bacterial effects, and was approved by the USFDA as an anti-plaque agent in toothpaste; there has been some controversy over this. Bloodroot extracts have been promoted as anti-cancer agents, especially for skin cancer, the idea being that topical applications can destroy the cancer cells. This use is not sanctioned by the USFDA.

Where to find it: Widely scattered in the woods. The plant occurs only in a few locations, and the blooms last only a few days, so it is not easy to find.