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Lamprocapnos spectabilis – Bleeding Heart

Categories:For the Shade Garden Perennials Recommended

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Bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) is an easy to grow perennial that has been grown in American gardens for decades.

It is not hard to see how bleeding heart got its name.

It does best in shady spots, with some morning sun being nice. It will tolerate heavy shade.  What you want to watch out for is dry shade and persistently wet soils in winter. Neither works for bleeding heart.

Bleeding heart fades away in summer. It has gone dormant.

Bleeding Heart
Bleeding heart flower detail gives insight into the origin of the common name.

We’re used to plants going dormant in winter, but many of the ephemerals such as trilliums go dormant during the heat of summer as well. Many garden roses also go semi-dormant during the hottest summer months. Like astilbe, bleeding heart really does not tolerate soils that dry out completely. At its best, it is grown in moist well-drained soils.

Plant it where you won’t be bothered by browning leaves as it moves into summer dormancy. Putting it in areas where later emerging perennials will cover its remains is a good practice. I use this trick with the lenten roses and peonies as well.

Perennial bleeding heart
Bleeding heart in the garden

Bleeding heart is not native to America. It is an introduced species that calls home various parts of Asia (Korea, Siberia, and China). There is a Dicentra eximia, that is less exuberant in flower.

You may remember bleeding heart by the old genus name ‘Dicentra’. Genus and species is now Lamprocapnos spectabilis. Bleeding heart has had many name changes since it was first named by Linnaeus himself in 1753 (including twice being identified with the genus name Dicentra). In 1997, it was officially recognized as being part of genus Lamprocapnos.

It is hardy zones 3-9. My belief is that heat is more of a threat than cold.

Bloom is in April and May. It grows 2 to 3 feet tall and wide with a casual yet graceful air about it. It is perfect in woodland or cottage gardens. Plant it where it seemingly appears it has always been. There is an art to casually distributing plants around the garden, and bleeding heart is a good one to practice with.

At the base of an old fence or peaking out from in between some ferns would be most excellent. Japanese painted fern would be a good companion I think, coming on strong as the ephemerals fade away.


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