Bleeding Heart

COMMON NAME:  bleeding heart
GENUS:  Dicentra
SPECIES, HYBRIDS, CULTIVARS:
D. eximia-fringed bleeding heart; deep red pink. D. spectabilis-bleeding heart; 30 inches tall; May-June. D.s. ‘Alba’-white bleeding heart; not as hardy as the pink.
FAMILY:  Fumariaceae
BLOOMS:  late spring
TYPE:  perennial
DESCRIPTION:  Exquisite heart-shaped flowers are borne on gracefully arching racemes. Different species range in height from 18 inches {eximia} to 30 inches {spectabilis}. The foliage is medium green, finely dissected, and attractive.
CULTIVATION:  Bleeding heart is particularly welcomed by gardeners who have a lot of shade, for the plants do best without any direct sun. A shady, open spot is ideal. The plant prefers soil rich in humus and need ample moisture. Roots can be divided in spring, or the plants can be propagated by taking root cuttings in early summer. If propagated from seed, bleeding heart should be sown into flats in midsummer.

About 150 species of bleeding heart can be found in North America, western Asia, and the Himalayas. The name Dicentra is from two Greek words, dis, meaning “two,” and kentros meaning “spurs,” and refers to the unusual flower shape. The species name, spectabilis, means “worthy of notice.”
The common name, bleeding heart, comes from a Chinese legend that said the blossoms of the plant resembled a heart with a drop of blood. Other common names for this plant are Chinamen’s breeches, lady’s locket, our Lady in a boat, and lyre flower.
In 1846 an English botanist, Robert Fortune, returned from a plant exploration trip to the Orient with the largest single plant shipment ever to arrive in England. A new type of terrarium developed to keep plant specimens alive for an extended period made the shipment possible. Among the plants was a single bleeding heart collected from the Grotto Gardens on the island of Chusan. The plant was given to the Royal Horticultural Society. It adapted quite well to the English climate and propagated easily, making it particularly popular with English gardeners.
Although America has its own native bleeding heart {D. eximia}, it is not as showy as the cultivated variety. It also has the decided disadvantage of causing dermatitis upon contact with any of its parts.

As pioneers in America moved westward, they moved out of shipping range for the nurseries. Homesteaders still wanted the ornamental plants that they had enjoyed back East, and to fill this need plant peddlers came into being. These individuals, the most famous of whom was Johnny Appleseed, traveled from one area to another selling seeds and plants. Bleeding heart was one plant the plant peddlers could always count on selling.

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