Posted by Aaron Barton on May 2nd 2021

Dicentra (Bleeding Heart)

As crisp spring air finally arrives here in Minnesota, groggy perennial beds are beginning to come to life for the spring season, with familiar faces providing some much-needed color and greenery in our lives. An irreplaceable shady spring garden classic, Dicentra (Dye-SEN-tra), or bleeding heart, of the poppy family, Papaveraceae, is a timeless perennial offering unique, whimsical heart-shaped blooms along graceful arching stems, above a mound of lush spring foliage.

Native to areas of Siberia, northern China, Korea, Japan, and North America, bleeding heart is the perfect choice for livening up shadier spaces and woodland gardens, best when planted among later blooming companions. Emerging red in early spring and reaching 18-36” tall and wide once mature, Dicentra will gently spread gently through underground rhizomatous growth to form attractive shrub-like mounds over time.

Blooming from mid-spring through early summer before slowly fading, as Dicentra go dormant in the mid-summer heat, bleeding heart produce beautiful rosettes of soft, fern-like foliage that shines beneath arching, unbranched racemes of countless pendant, heart-shaped blooms. Each one- to two-inch-long flower begins as a closed heart before the outer petals recurve to emphasize their protruding white stamen at the bottom of the flower, giving Dicentra their signature “bleeding” heart appearance.

The most common species available is Dicentra spectabilis (syn. Lamprocapnos spectabilis) and its various cultivars. An incredibly hardy and versatile plant, bleeding heart is available in many well-known varieties in addition to its classic powdery green foliage and pink blooms, including the bright chartreuse foliage and pink blooms of ‘Gold Heart,’ the dramatic red stems and crimson blooms of ‘Valentine,’ and the classic green foliage and white blooms of ‘Alba.’ Hybrids of other Dicentra species are also great in the garden, including the deeply lobed, fine foliage and smaller stature of ‘Luxuriant,’ an excellent pink-blooming bleeding heart perfect for adding texture to low shady borders.

Thriving in part sun or shade in moist, well-drained soils, and tolerant of clay-heavy soils, bleeding heart is a resilient, deer and rabbit resistant selection sure to wake up your garden and provide charming early season interest while nearby later season showstoppers are still gearing up for the season ahead.

Happy planting!