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Bleeding Heart - Dicentra spectabilis - An Old Fashioned Spring Perennial

Updated on May 21, 2016
Dolores Monet profile image

An avid gardener for over 40 years, Dolores has landscaped for private clients and maintained one client's small orchid collection.

Bleeding heart
Bleeding heart | Source

Bleeding Heart Blooms in Spring

From late April til June, the 24" - 36" Bleeding Hearts produce delicate blooms that dangle from arching stems. The flowers resemble dark pink or white hearts with smaller petals below the heart.

The beautifully lobed foliage remains green in northern climates if kept moist through the summer months. Unfortunately, in warmer areas, the foliage begins to turn yellow after the flowers have faded. But this lovely perennial is well worth it. Plant summer annual flowers around the area where the Bleeding Heart turns yellow to hide the faded leaves and later the bare spot.

Bleeding hearts prefer shade and rich, moist well drained soil. It does well in clay in either mildly acidic or mildly alkaline soil.

Faeries seem to lurk under the beautiful, old fashioned perennial called Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis). This long time garden favorite was brought to the West by famed Victorian plant collector, Robert Fortune. When the Royal Horticultural Society sent him to China in 1846, the plant was introduced to England and quickly gained popularity.

Bleeding Heart

Bleeding heart
Bleeding heart | Source

How to Buy Bleeding Heart

Bleeding hearts can be purchased boxed or bare root in their dormant state from garden shops or catalogues.

Garden centers also offer the plant in spring while they are in bloom or about to bloom. Choose a healthy, thick stemmed plant. Check the hole at the bottom of the pot to make sure the roots have not been overcrowded. If you want, wait until the plants are just past their peak bloom, you may find them at a discounted price.

This is not a good perennial to divide or transplant in spring. However, I've successfully dug up a small clump, separated it from the larger area in winter while the plant was dormant. A new Bleeding Heart grew up in its new garden and the old one was none the worse for the wear.

Bleeding Heart and Grape Hyacinths

Bleeding heart in the garden with grape hyacinths.
Bleeding heart in the garden with grape hyacinths. | Source

Other Varieties

Dwarf Ever-blooming Bleeding Heart (Dicentra formosa) is a smaller version of the Bleeding Heart 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.

The dwarf varieties do not display the perfectly shaped little hearts like the larger plants.

This vintage card illustrates the popularity of Bleeding Heart in the old days.(
This vintage card illustrates the popularity of Bleeding Heart in the old days.(

Bleeding Heart - The Legend and Lore

An old story centered around Bleeding Heart features a prince and princess. The prince is in love with the princess and brings her many gifts which are illustrated during the telling of the tale by taking a Bleeding Heart flower apart. In the end, of course, the prince kills himself 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.


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      Olive P 8 years ago

      One of my favorite plants. First time I saw one was in my Gmom's garden. I loved it so much that when she passed away I dug it up and planted at my house. When I moved to where I am now it was October and the plant was out of sight. I didn't think to dig it up and take it with me. But I have one that I bought and a volunteer that came up next to it.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Olive, have you ever driven passed your old house in spring to see if it is still there? (I guess that would be kind of creepy)

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      This brought back fond memories of my grandfather's garden in Wisconsin. He always had bleeding hearts planted and he would take a flower apart and tell us how each part related to Christianity. It has been a long time since those days and I haven't thought of this in a while. Thanks for bringing back this good memory.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Peggy, thank you so much for the lovely comment. I am happy to have brought back that beautiful memory of your grandfather. There was something special about grandparent's gardens...

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