Haemodorum coccineum

scarlet bloodroot


Haemodorum coccineum

R.Br. 1810

pronounced: high-moh-DOOR-um kpk-KIN-ee-um

(Haemodoraceae — the bloodwort or kangaroo paw family)


common name: scarlet bloodroot

native 4Haemodorum is derived from the Greek 'αιμα (hæma), blood, and δωρον (doron), a gift, referring to the red coloration of the roots of the members of this genus (hence also the common name); coccineum is from the Latin coccineus, scarlet coloured, referring to the colour of the flowers of this species. There are some 30 species in the genus, occurring in northern, eastern and south-western Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea.

The plant is one of those collected in 1770 by Banks and Solander during the voyage of the Endeavour. It was collected at the Endeavour River (Cooktown).

Scarlet Bloodroot occurs in open woodland and forest right across northern Australia from about Mackay northwards, and also on islands in the Torres Strait and the Gulf of Carpentaria. It is often found in depressions behind beaches, in association with eucalypt forests, open forest and savannah. It seems to prefer a position with filtered or partial sun. The plant photographed was growing near Gustav Creek in Nelly Bay.

It is a perennial herb with strap-like, slightly leathery leaves arising from an underground rhizome. Plants usually die back to the rhizome during the winter dry season, and regrow soon after the arrival of the next wet season. The leaves are anything up to 60 cm in length and about 1 cm in width.

Unlike most of the other members of the genus, the plant features spectacular colourful flowers. Flowering occurs mainly in the wet season (November – March), although in North Queensland sporadic flowering may occur in any month, and sometimes after fire. The flowers are in corymbose panicles on stiff erect stalks about a metre tall, and are red or orange-red in colour. An inflorescence can contain 200-300 individual flowers, grouped in 10-15 clusters.

The fruit is a 3-lobed capsule, and the seed is discoid, with a membranous marginal wing. The seed is black, about 5 x 4 mm.

Seed is reported to germinate well when fresh, without any pre-treatment, although it is claimed that improved rates of germination have been achieved by leaching out the red dye present in the seed coat. Propagation may also be accomplished by division of the rhizomes of established plants.

Both the flowers and the roots are used by the Aboriginal people to produce a high-quality red dye, used for woven baskets and bags.


Photographs taken in Nelly Bay 2013
Page last updated 11th January 2019