Dicentra, or Bleeding Heart as it is commonly known, is a perennial plant originating from Asia and North America. This wonderful plant ranging from 8 inches to 3 feet tall, depending on cultivar, has uniquely shaped, typically pink flowers gracefully hanging as if by invisible wires off gracefully arching, leafless branches. These blossoms as the name implies are in the shape of a heart with a tiny teardrop at the base making it appear to be in fact bleeding. This has been a favorite for over a hundred years for the shade garden and looks especially nice inter-planted with Hosta, Hellebores, Ferns, Primrose and Trillium.
This plant can tolerate weak morning sun but prefers part shade with little or no direct sun. It is extremely cold hardy doing quite well up in zones 2-8. In warm winter regions it tends to be short lived and does particularly poorly in desert heat. The soil must be moist though not soggy and humus rich. Providing it with a mulch of leaf mold will make it a happy camper.
There are approximately 15 species of Dicentra with only a handful being readily available to the home gardener. The common or old-fashioned Bleeding Heart ( Dicentra Specabilis) is arguably the most popular, easiest to find and the most enchanting of the bunch. It comes in a bright pink heart with the teardrop of pure white. The deep green leaves, the largest of the Dicentra clan, are divided and lightly veined.
Dicentra Specabilis can get up to three feet high but tends to fizzle out by mid-summer sometimes completely going dormant. They last longer in cool summer areas. They should, therefore, be planted among other perennials that can take up the slack during its absence. Cinnamon ferns, Begonias and Hosta do this quite nicely. “Alba” is the pure white form of the Dicentra Specabilis and is quite striking in the shadiest garden setting. Well worth having even though it is not as vigorous a grower as the pink form.
Fringed or Fernleaf Bleeding Heart ( Dicentra Eximia) is a 15 inch tall native of the woodlands of the northeastern part of the U.S. The cultivar “Luxuriant” grows in neat little clumps with pretty, fern-like divided leaves in a blue-green color. The flowers are slightly more oblong than the Dicentra Specabilis and a bright magenta pink with just a touch of white at the base. Blooms almost nonstop from late spring to the first autumn frost.
“Snowdrift” is a sparkling white form of the Fernleaf Bleeding Heart with leaves a gray-green color. Almost continuous blooming from this one with the tiniest pause in mid-summer, probably to catch its breath before going forth until frost kicks it back. Wonderful planted under a small tree within a cottage garden, as a ground cover in the woodland garden or in the semi-shady part of a perennial border .
Western Bleeding Heart ( Dicentra Formosa) originates from the Pacific coastal woodlands and stands 8-18 inched high. The deep rose colored flowers of “Tuolumne Rose” grow in clusters on tall stems with a reddish hue of their own. “Sweetheart” is a white form with light green leaves. Bloom time is spring to fall.
Bleeding Heart is one of those plants which make a gardener glad to have some shade. If you don’t have any shade then by all means get some if only to grow this spectacular little gem of a perennial.