Common or Old-Fashioned Bleeding Heart

The bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) is in full bloom right now. There’s something very appealing about this flower – it provides color after the spring bulbs have ended and before the peonies and iris start to bloom. Also the individual blossoms are very unusual.

Common Bleeding Heart Inflorescence

When in bloom, it’s easy to see where the bleeding heart gets its name. Each of the little pink flowers (there are also white varieties) is shaped like a heart with a protruding tip that looks like a drop – a bleeding heart. The flowers form along an arching inflorescence called a raceme, an arrangement of flowers where each individual flower is attached by a small stalk (pedicle) to the main stem. These racemes allow the individual flowers to dangle above the foliage of the plant. At maturity a bleeding heart plant is about 2-3′ tall and 3′ wide and is a very long-lived perennial.

This is one of those plants that I tried in a number of different locations until I found the right spot. Bleeding hearts need some sun but also a fair amount of shade. The other distinctive thing about their growth habit is that after blossoming, the plants goes dormant during the heat of the summer.

I first planted the bleeding heart in a location that was too sunny – it grew but the plant was small and it died back very quickly in the spring. I then moved it to a location that was too shady – the plant was much larger but it didn’t flower like it should. Now I’ve found the perfect location. It’s near a fence and lilac bush where it gets morning light but is shaded during the heat of the day. This is also a location where, when the plant goes dormant, it doesn’t leave a gaping hole in the landscape.

If you’re growing a bleeding heart in a mixed flower bed, it’s suggested that it be planted with hostas or ferns. These shade loving plants will just be beginning to grow when the bleeding heart is in bloom and when the plant goes dormant, the leaves of the hostas or ferns will cover the area where the bleeding heart was growing.

There is another species of bleeding heart called the fringed leaf bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia). This plant has flowers like the common bleeding heart but if it’s grown in an area that’s cool and moist, this species will stay green all season and blossom periodically during the summer with another burst of blooms in the fall. I haven’t tried growing the fringed leaf bleeding heart but if you want bleeding hearts throughout the year, this might be worth a try.

When the bleeding heart is blooming, I know spring is here. I like this plant because of its flowers and the fact that it requires almost no care. Now that I’ve found the right location for it, I just let it grow, knowing that each spring the bleeding heart will grace tha garden with it’s distinctive blossoms.


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