A Fine Year For Bleeding Hearts

The old-fashioned bleeding hearts (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) in my garden are looking very happy this year, the moist cool spring must agree with them. They are bushy and robust, with many long stems lined with dangling pink and white flowers.

Old Fashioned Bleeding Heart
Old Fashioned Bleeding Heart.

The unique shape of the bleeding heart flower certainly suggests the origin the plant’s name, though it is odd that the drop of “blood” is white. However, this common name makes more sense than some others that have been used. For example: lady in a bath, Dutchman’s breeches, and lyre flower. As to lady in a bath – if the white part is the lady, then the name should be lady in a bath upside down. Now that I think of it, lyre flower is a good fit, though not as evocative as bleeding heart.

Note that the taxonomists have been at their mischief again. The botanical name was Dicentra spectabilis until recently, very suitable and appealing if you ask me. How they came up with Lamprocapnos I don’t know, but it is a very ugly genus name for a lovely flower. Lamprocapnos sounds like one of those parasitic eels that attach themselves to fish and suck out their vital juices.

Bleeding Heart with Virginia Bluebells
Bleeding Heart with Virginia Bluebells

Another reason my bleeding hearts may be looking especially nice this year is that they are just another year older. This is a plant that spreads gradually by rhizomes, the clumps becoming more and more impressive in size.

Bleeding hearts like shade and moisture. They are considered ephemeral because they die back after blooming. In my experience, though, bleeding hearts in the right sort of spot will keep their foliage looking fresh until July or August.

Bleeding Heart with False Forget-Me-Not
Bleeding Heart with False Forget-Me-Not

Blue flowers go particularly well with bleeding heart, especially Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) and false forget-me-not (Brunnera macrophyla).  A note about false forget-me-not. This is not to be confused with forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica). False forget-me-not is a longer-lived perennial  with flowers very similar to Myosotis. It also goes under the common name Siberian bugloss. Which would you rather be called? Enough said.

Bleeding Heart with Ostrich Ferns
Bleeding Heart with Ostrich Ferns

Ferns are another excellent companion for old-fashioned bleeding heart.

Do you have bleeding heart in your garden? Is it having a good year?

54 Comments on “A Fine Year For Bleeding Hearts

  1. They are beautifull but Bleeding hearts only last a few seasons here. I think its the hot summers? I have had the species, the white flowered, and the fern leaf. I have also attempted to grow the Climbing Bleeding Heart- beautiful yellow flowers but it died after a few seasons, too!

  2. Yours look out of this world!!! Mine have jumped in size this year as well! I like the companions you mentioned above for the bleeding heart. I hope mine keep their foliage looking nice until August! That would be fantastic! With the heat last summer ours didn’t last very long. Thanks for the chuckle about the lady in a bath..HA! Your garden is fantastic!!!

  3. We have 2 bleeding hearts, a pink and a white. This is their second year and they seem to like the garden because they look great.

    We are lucky to have Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman’s Breeches) as a common local wildflower. Although it is tempting to dig one up and bring it home, I leave them alone so other hikers or wildflower enthusiast to enjoy.

  4. I have a swath of five ‘Gold Heart’ bleeding hearts, growing in a semi-shady spot under some Douglas firs. They seem to really like it there, every year they get bigger. They’ve always been one of my favorite perennials.

  5. I like the way the pink bleeding heart is placed amongst the blue, very pretty combo, the droopy purple flowers may be buddleia, or salvia. The shrub has been pruned to resemble a bridge.

  6. Really, really beautiful. I am not sure if I can grow them. I have to look into it. They are such sweet flowers. Love them combined with blue.. gorgeous!

  7. Yes, mine has been doing well too! I shall have to try putting something blue near mine, as it does look very pretty in your photo. I have pale pink Honesty next to mine – also nice. I agree the name is a bit odd, but in German it is a “weeping” heart… maybe more apt considering the colour of the “droplet”? I know we should be thankful for plants being put into the right categories, but I shall always refer to this as Dicentra I’m afraid… old habits die hard! Thanks for the nice post – have a good week!

  8. They certainly are looking fine. I only grow the pure white form but I agree the late spring has suited it down to the ground. Also I completely agree re the name change a big error – dicentra is a lovely word! I was told by my 92 year old friend that ‘lady in the bath’ refers to turning the flower up the other way and squeezing the sides, whereupon the middle section jumps up like a lady getting out of her bath! Maybe this analogy worked better in Victorian times than now!..Happy gardening, Ursula

  9. Hi Jason, I love your bleeding hearts, in Italy the common name is Mary’s heart, where Mary is the Virgin Mary, we never contradict our catholic root 🙂
    They’ve been messing a lot with plant’s names, lately but I decided I’m going to stick with old names (aster, dicentra, eupatorium and so on). Call me old-fashioned, call me nostalgic, they just can’t change the questions now that I’ve leant the answers!

  10. It’s been a banner year for bleeding hearts here in CT, too. I find that the more shade they receive, the longer the last into the summer. In some locations in my garden, the foliage is still ok in August. I have mine planted with ferns, native geraniums and hosta. I didn’t realize bleeding hearts had a new scientific name so thanks for the heads up on that one. I don’t know why they can’t leave well enough alone!

  11. Bleeding Hearts could possible be my favorite plant because of its sheer beauty. I started with one plant and divided it over the past years and now I have several. They are certainly enjoying our cooler than usual spring this year here in NH.

  12. I always love that plant because of its wonderful name. Because of its need for moisture it wouldn’t work in my garden. Not only is the new name for it ugly – I had just learned Dicentra, now have to unlearn it. Those fickle taxonomists have no consideration for name-challenged gardeners like me. As for the False Forget-me-nots – if they could talk they would probably call themselves Forget-me-nots and the Myosotis false. Thanks for another quirky enjoyable post.

  13. I just adore bleeding hearts. I wish they would have left its name alone. I don’t understand the reasoning behind changing plants names lately. I like your false forget-me-nots, too. The combination is quite beautiful.

  14. I absolutely agree with you — bleeding hearts are having a fabulous time in garden this year. I have many in my garden and they are looking so beautiful and gorgeous. I have a portion of them with muscari grape (hyacinth, I think are called) — they bloom at the same time — big blue spikes of flowers with pink hanging overhead. So pretty.

  15. Your Bleeding Hearts are lovely. Mine did not show up this year! I fear I killed it last spring when I dug up the bed it’s in in order to thin and separate the rudbeckia. I tried really hard to avoid it, but I must have gotten it nonetheless. I will definitely replace it. Our local chapter of the Penn State Master Gardeners had a perennial sale over the weekend, but no bleeding hearts there! Just some phlox in a re-used pot that still had the bleeding heart label on it!

    I am most partial to the old-fashioned variety. I’ve never warmed up to the fringed variety, despite its longer bloom period.

    • Oh, and by the way, my Joe Pye weed has finally shown itself! Little tiny red shoots, poking out more horizontally than vertically to the ground. Yay!

  16. I grow our native ones which are still Dicentra – Dicentra formosa, at least on Calflora.org which has noted other changes. Mine are not getting enough shade and moisture this year – I removed a couple big shrubs that were shading them and the replacement shrub is just 6 inches tall right now! But they are trying, poor things. I’m hoping with extra water they’ll get through till next year when normal service will be resumed.

  17. You are a man after my own heart as you love dicentras! I hold the national collection in the UK- its not as grand as it sounds!. I am posting a piece on Dicentra formosa tomorrow.
    I love the french name for the bleeding heart, Coeur de Marie. Lady in a Bath is a very evocative name and I see a curvaceous lady standing in a victorian bath!
    I am not sure about your statement that Dicentra spectabilis spreads by rhizomes- but of course some dicentras do.

  18. I had no idea that they changed the name, that’s a real shame…it does sound ugly now.

    Jen

  19. I had no idea bleeding hearts had rhizomes or that they could spread until we moved into our current house. and holy cr– do they spread! and set seed. I’m constantly digging the darn things out from where they’re not wanted. Never would have believed it before. Lucky they’re so pretty.

  20. I just had a reader ask me where I planted my Bleeding Hearts and they are tucked in very shady corners like lost souls. It is funny you featured them. I know the name changed, I read about it, but to me they stay Dicentra. Even in the nurseries they are still tagged as such. You are right, Lamprocapnos spectabilis sounds stupid.

  21. I laughed the way you described how their names seem like, a writer can really think of unusual things. I can’t suddenly come up with something like an “eel” to be better named as Lamprocapnos, but yes this seems ugly! I wish i have the “fingers” of a writer, to touch the keys that produce lovely thoughts.

    We can’t grow those bleeding hearts here in the hot tropics, so i guess it is inside my chest!

  22. We’ve had good luck with the yellow ferny type of bleeding heart. The other types have not done well. In our area (Binghamton, NY) the bleeding hearts have had a fantastic year. We may try again.

  23. Hi Jason, the bleeding hearts I put in a few years ago are turning into sizeable plants now. Ours don’t die back in the summer because they’re in the shade and it doesn’t get that hot and it stays relatively wet (it is the UK, after all). I’m glad for that as they have really fresh foliage that stays a pleasant shade of green that I enjoy long after the unusual flowers have gone.

  24. I think it was too wet here or something. Mine came up but I didn’t see one blossom and I have some yellow leaves. I was disappointed. Everything else came up pretty good. I did check I few bulbs and they were a little soft and wet. So those wonderful rains might have been too much.

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