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Portland Nursery

DICENTRA: Bleeding Heart

Bleeding hearts are a long standing, popular staple in the shade garden. Old-fashioned bleeding heart, Dicentra spectabalis, has been cultivated in gardens since the 1840's and still reigns as the most widely grown of all the Dicentra. How can one deny the beauty of this queen with dramatic, long wands of pendant, heart-shaped pink and white blooms.

Dicentra spectabalis

Dicentra spectabalis

This rich display of floral jewels is followed by the droplet blooms of our native D. formosa and the east coast native D. eximia. These two species readily cross pollinate, and have given rise to many garden hybrids. The delicate feathery foliage of the Ameican native species is close to the ground, and adds great contrast to the bold leaves of hostas, wild ginger or grasses. Dicentra spectabalis combines well with just about anything. Because D. spectabalis goes dormant in summer, it often combines well with late blooming or evergreen perennials such as Ligularia, Astilbe or Farfugium.

The less common D. scandens is a vining species with clusters of bright yellow flowers from late summer through fall. It is a wonderful plant to thread through flowering currants, Japanese Maples or train on a trellis.

A newer series of hybrid Dicentra called the Heart series offer stunning, fern like foliage in shades of blue and green with clusters of large red, pink or white flowers on 10-12" stems. These Dicentra need very good drainage and can handle full sun (except in the hottest part of the day) as long as they receive regular water. They are excellent specimens in the partially shaded rock garden.

No matter which species of Dicentra you choose to grow, most are easy and low maintenance. They can add a sense of elegance or woodland wonder to virtually any shade garden. Even the fairies will approve.

A few varieties available at Portland Nursery:

Dicentra 'Burning Hearts'

Dicentra 'Burning Hearts'

The most stunning of the Hearts series with blue fern-like foliage and clusters of large red flowers edged in white April through June. Grows 10-12" tall and wide in part sun. Requires good drainage. Zone 3.

Dicentra formosa, Western Bleeding Heart

Native to the Pacific Northwest. Light pink flowers bloom May through July. This species reseeds and spreads by runners which lends it to naturalizing in the garden. It grows 12-18" tall and 24" wide in full to part shade. Hardy in zones 3-9.

Dicentra 'Bachanal'

Dicentra formosa 'Bacchanal' - Dark red/pink flowers top blue green leaves. 12-18" tall and wide Zones 6-9.
Dicentra formosa 'Langtrees'- Creamy white flowers and blue feathery foliage. Slowly spreads. Grows 12" tall 24" wide in zones 3-9.

Dicentra spectabalis

Old-fashioned bleeding heart. Dark pink flowers with white centers bloom April through May. Grows 24-36" tall and wide in full to part shade. Foliage dies back when soils get warm in the summer. Zones 3-9. Great cut flower.
Dicentra spectabalis 'Alba'- Pure white heart-shaped flowers. (pictured in sidebar)

Dicentra spectabalis 'Gold Heart'
Dicentra spectabalis 'Gold Heart'- Bright gold foliage adds contrast to the bright pink and white flowers.

Dicentra scandensDicentra scandens

Clusters of slender, rich yellow flowers summer to fall. This climbing species clings with tiny tendrils.

Fern-like leaves have delicate white markings. It grows 6-12' tall, requires good drainage, hardy in zones 7-9.


Dicentra spectabalis 'Alba'


Family: Papaveracae

Genus: Dicentra

Common Name: Bleeding Heart, Dutchman's Breeches, Lady in the Bath

Origin: This genus contains around 20 species native to North America, Japan and China.

Culture: Dicentras are deciduous perennials that thrive in rich, well-drained soil in full to partial shade and regular water in the summer months.

Maintenance: Very easy, low-maintenance plants. Cool soil will help the foliage last longer. Once the leaves turn yellow, cut stems to the ground in summer (for D. spectabalis) or fall (for other species). Some varieties spread by runners or reseed.

Pest and Disease: Powdery mildew, aphids, slugs and snails.