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Bleeding Heart

Learn about the bleeding heart, on this Focus on Flowers.

The bleeding heart.

Photo: drp (Flickr)

The old fashioned bleeding heart, Decentra "spectabilis", grows two feet tall with long arching racemes of heart shaped pink flowers.

Gardeners are grateful for plants that will flower well without direct sun. The genus, “dicentra,” has a number of plants with the common name “bleeding heart.” These like rich soil and moisture. An English botanist, Robert Fortune brought the first bleeding heart specimen from the orient in 1846.

The plant adapted well to the English climate and propagated easily. The old fashioned bleeding heart, Decentra “spectabilis,” grows two feet tall with long arching racemes of heart shaped pink flowers. “Alba” is the white variety, but like so many white flowers is slightly less vigorous. They go dormant in mid summer, after their late spring display, so it is best to plant them with ferns and hostas, which can fill in the vacated space.

There is one bleeding heart, dicentra “luxuriant” which does not die down, but which continues to bloom throughout the growing season. It has the added advantage of having ferny foliage. All bleeding hearts can be divided in the spring and give a traditional cottage garden look.

Plant peddlers, like the famous Johnny Appleseed, did a brisk business selling ornamentals such as bleeding hearts. Thus, although these varieties are not natives, they are plants American pioneers cherished.

Moya Andrews

, originally from Queensland, Australia, served as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculties at Indiana University until 2004. In the same year, Moya began hosting Focus on Flowers for WFIU. In addition, Moya does interviews for Profiles, is a member of the Bloomington Hospital Board, and authored Perennials Short and Tall from Indiana University Press.

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