Bleeding Heart (Dicentra Spectabilis): An Old-Fashioned Spring Perennial
How and Where Do Bleeding Hearts Grow?
Bleeding Heart blooms in spring. From late April until June, the 24" - 36" plants produce delicate blooms that dangle from arching stems. The flowers resemble dark pink or white hearts with smaller petals below.
The beautifully lobed foliage remains green in northern climates if kept moist through the summer months. In warmer areas, the foliage begins to turn yellow after the flowers have faded, but this lovely perennial is well worth it. Simply plant summer annual flowers around it to hide the yellowed leaves.
They prefer shade and rich, moist, well-drained soil. They do well in clay in either mildly acidic or mildly alkaline soil.
Faeries seem to lurk in its shadows. This long-time garden favorite was brought to the West by famed Victorian plant collector, Robert Fortune. The Royal Horticultural Society sent him to China in 1846, and he brought the plant back to England with him, where it quickly gained popularity.
How and Where to Buy Bleeding Heart
- Bleeding Heart can be purchased boxed or bare root in their dormant state from garden shops or catalogues. Garden centers also offer the plant in spring when they are in bloom (or about to bloom). If you can, wait until the plants are just past their peak bloom and you may find them at a discounted price.
- Choose a healthy, thick-stemmed plant. Check the hole at the bottom of the pot to make sure the roots have not emerged there, which is a sign of overcrowding.
- This is not a good perennial to divide or transplant in spring. However, in the winter, while the plant was dormant, I've successfully dug up a small clump and separated it from the larger. A new Bleeding Heart grew in its new spot and the old one was none the worse for wear.
- Dwarf Ever-Blooming Bleeding Heart (Dicentra formosa) is a smaller version and only 12" - 15" tall. As the name suggests, this variety will continue to bloom through the summer if the spent blossoms are removed and the plant is kept moist.
- King of Hearts is a pink flowering, sun-tolerant version.
- Aurora bears white flowers above grey-green foliage.
- Luxuriant's flowers are bright red.
- Bacchanal features rose red flowers.
Note: The dwarf varieties do not display the perfectly-shaped little hearts like the larger plants do.
The Legend and Lore of Bleeding Heart
An old story features a prince and princess. The prince is in love with the princess and brings her many gifts. Each gift looks like part of the flower, and while you tell the story, you pluck those pieces off the flower. In the end, of course, the princess refuses him, and the prince kills himself (the storyteller stabs the flower's heart with the stamen) and the princess feels guilty.
I've never taken a flower apart to investigate the bits inside that describe the tale; they are too delicate and pretty to disturb.
Bleeding Heart has long been associated with Christianity. The flower is known as the Bleeding Heart of Mary as well as the Bleeding Heart of Jesus, a traditional concept in the Catholic Church.
Questions & Answers
My well established bleeding heart did not come back this spring. Is there anything I can do to save it?
The bleeding heart can be killed by soggy soil. If you had a very wet fall or winter, the roots might have rotted. There are also fungal diseases that can harm bleeding hearts. Verticillium wilt or fusarium wilt will damage or destroy your plants.
As you can not save a plant that is not there, maybe you should just get a new one. Dig up the old roots as well as some of the surrounding soil. Enrich the area with a soil conditioner that loosens the soil. Clay holds water so make sure you remove surrounding clay to increase drainage.