Bleeding heart is the common name for one of the Dicentra species of herbaceous flowering plants. The unique flowers and elegant, woodsy appearance have made the bleeding heart a longtime favorite among gardeners. Bleeding hearts are indigenous to cool woodland regions of Asia and the United States.
The name bleeding heart comes from the flower, which is heart-shaped and has what appears to be a small droplet of blood dangling from the center. This plant reaches 2 to 3 feet in height and has a similar width. The foliage is light green and the flowers are either pink or white. They bloom in mid to late spring, depending on the growing zone.
Plant bleeding hearts among other shade-loving perrenials
Bleeding hearts should be planted 18 to 24 inches apart in a shady area of your garden. They thrive in rich soil that drains well. Water these plants regularly, but do not over-water, as this can lead to root rot. Foliage dies off when summer heat approaches its peak, so it is best to plant bleeding hearts among later-developing perennials, such as hostas and ferns; these later-developing plants will keep your garden looking full once the bleeding hearts die away.
The bleeding heart belongs to the Fumariaceae family; the genus is Dicentra and the species is Spectabilis. There are a few other, less common species of bleeding heart plants. One is called the Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria); it bears white flowers that resemble a pair of pants hanging out to dry. Another is the fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia); its blooms are dusty pink and its foliage has a fringe-like texture.
Bleeding hearts can be propagated in a couple of ways. The best method is to carefully dig up a hardy plant, shake the dirt away, and divide the root ball with a sharp knife. This can be done in early spring before the plant has flowered, or in late summer after the foliage has died away. Another method is to collect seeds after the plant has flowered. To do this, place a plastic bag around the seed head; once the pods have dried, break them open and harvest the seeds. For best results, sow these seeds directly in the ground before they dry out.
The roots and foliage of bleeding hearts contain an isoquinoline-like alkaloid that is poisonous if ingested. Symptoms include trembling, staggering, vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions and labored breathing. Although there are no reported deaths in humans, there have been deaths reported in cattle. Additionally, this plant can cause skin irritation and allergic reactions. It is advisable to wear gloves when handling, and wash hands well when done handling these plants.