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The Bleeding Heart

Updated on January 24, 2015
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Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.

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The beautiful bleeding heart flower. The name at first might sound morbid, but when you actually see them you understand the meaning. Dainty, fresh, and a welcome sight in the spring for any garden.

This flower, a native of Japan, is considered a perennial which means that it comes up year after year. There is no need to replant them each spring to enjoy their beauty. If you live in planting zones 3-9, you should have no trouble keeping them alive and healthy. There are usually no problems with insects or diseases.

Your plant will grow between 2 and 3 feet high. Some have been reported to get 4 feet. Around April or May, you’ll see fern-like leaves appear which arch slightly to hold the many flowers that will appear. They’ll declare themselves in pink, white, or the eye-catching red. There is even one that is fringed and gives a fancy look. The blossoms are one inch heart shaped with a “drop of blood “ dangling at the base. If you look at the blossoms closely, you might notice them resembling pants. That gives them another known name of Dutchman’s Trousers.

Plant the bleeding hearts in partial or full shade to add color as you rest. Make sure that the soil and well-drained and rich. As they grow begin to divide them around the third year and every three to four years after that. Do it in the spring before blooming for successful planting. Space the plants about two feet apart. They are great for rock gardens and woodlawn gardens. You can even have a great looking potted “garden” inside or on your patio or deck with them.

Around mid-summer the blooms will die back. So will the foliage unless it is well watered and fertilized. Use pine needles or bark as mulch. They can also reproduce themselves by going to seed. As you see others coming up, move them to other locations throughout your garden.

Hummingbirds love these blossoms as do many butterflies. Use the bleeding heart to complement the greenery underneath your trees.

It even has medicinal qualities. The essence of bleeding heart is reputed to help cure toothaches and headaches.

Like with many plants that grace our lawns, there is usually a legend or two surrounding it. The bleeding heart is no exception. Before I heard of the legend, I envisioned the heart-break that had to be involved to produce such a plant. The most renowned legend comes from Annie Fellows Johnston. It is the story of the love of an old woman for an orphan child. Through her love she pricks her finger every day. The drop of blood becomes a seed that is used to create a magical necklace that she gives the young girl when she is old enough to attend a party at the castle. Each time she dresses in her old clothes and the necklace. When she approaches the castle, she repeats a charm that transforms her into such beauty. But as the days go by, she becomes arrogant and disrespectful of the old woman who raised her. One night she forgets the charm and in her selfish arrogance breaks the necklace and the seeds scatter on the ground next to the castle wall. She marries the prince and as the days go by in bliss she forgets the giving old woman. One day she sees the most unusual flower growing by the wall. It is shaped like a heart with a drop of blood falling from it. As she admires it, the flowers remind her of the love she neglected. In shame, she tells her new husband and they bring the old woman into the castle to live and give her back all she had given the young girl. Now as you look upon the unique bleeding heart, think of sacrificial love and all that goes into it.


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    • profile image

      PamD 6 years ago

      My Grandma used to take these apart & tell a different story about a Persian princess. I know there were slippers and perfume bottles involved, but can't remember how it went.

      They're very nice, hardy shade plants & the foliage stays nice all season, too.

    • msklaas profile image

      msklaas 6 years ago

      Thought everyone would like to see the legend here:

      My grandmother told it to me and my Aunt Dorrie (Doris) would get on me for picking all her bleeding hearts to show my friends (LOL). Aunt Dorrie cared for grandma all her life and she never married. There were 7 daughters and one son, my father. Three of them never married and taught school.

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 6 years ago from United States

      What a great collection of photos! I love bleeding heart. It's one of my favorite spring flowers. Why had I never heard the story? It's great. Thanks for sharing it.

    • profile image

      gemma 7 years ago

      hahahaha lol GAYY!!!!!!!

    • moonbun profile image

      moonbun 8 years ago from London

      I love Bleeding Hearts, never seen a white one before though, so pretty!

    • Hawkesdream profile image

      Hawkesdream 8 years ago from Cornwall

      These flowers are so beautiful, and what an apt name for them.

    • profile image

      His daughter 8 years ago

      I love those bleeding hearts. I got the new Burning Hearts dicentra this spring. However, I've had 3 of them not do well and 2 seem to have not made it. I don't know what was wrong except if all the rain we have had (a very wet spring) did them in.

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 8 years ago from United States

      Beautiful backstory and flowers. Great hub!

    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 8 years ago from Wisconsin

      Liberal, eh? I think I've heart of a few closet conservatives growing them. :)

    • Mighty Mom profile image

      Susan Reid 8 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      That is just lovely! Loved the photos and the story of the selfish girl. The flowers are amazing looking. Question for ya: Do you have to be a liberal to plant them:-)??? Just kidding! Great hub! MM