An Old Fashioned Favorite: Bleeding Heart

Plants often spark memories for me. Bleeding heart has a special place in my garden and my heart.
An Old Fashioned Favorite: Bleeding Heart - News


Bleeding heart by Liz West / Muffet, License 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Spreading freely in my woodland space, its delightful, pink blossoms remind me of walking in the quiet Allegheny forest and of a favorite uncle who encouraged my "growing" interest in gardening.

Dicentra eximia is our native North American bleeding heart. Smaller than Lamprocapnos spectablis from Japan, our native bleeding heart is more tolerant of heat and sun, and established plants can even thrive in drier conditions. With deeply cut, bluish green fern-like leaves, its pink heart-shaped flowers dangle on arching stems like small bouquets. It grows in moist and shady places, reaching about 6 to 18 inches tall, and in small 4- to 6-inch clumps.

Many new hybrids have been developed to increase bloom time, vigor and heat tolerance. Some of the hybrids, like 'King of Hearts' are sterile. Some gardeners favor white cultivars like 'Ivory Hearts' or 'Aurora'. Even leaf color can be tweaked, like 'Gold Heart', which has stunning chartreuse foliage, a real eye-catching pop in the shade.

One of the most popular shade garden plants, bleeding heart is a wonderful addition to any woodland garden. It pairs well with ferns, sweet woodruff and hostas. I have mine alongside foamflower (Tiarella), Lenten rose (Helleborus) and Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum). The soft foliage and delicate flowers of bleeding heart contrast nicely with the bold, dappled leaves of lungwort (Pulmonaria) and tall sweeps of Solomon's seal (Polygonatum).

Bleeding heart is resistant to deer and rabbits. It attracts hummingbirds and butterflies, as well as other beneficial pollinators. Bleeding heart can spread naturally by rhizomes or self-seeding. You can also propagate it by root cuttings and division. Now is a good time to spot bleeding heart in its natural habitat, but please remember it is not legal to dig up these plants in the wild to add to your home garden. Look for bleeding heart from growers specializing in native plants and consider adding this beautiful Appalachian native to your home garden.