Bleeding hearts are one of the most popular plants for shade gardens. They belong to a genus composed of about twenty species of herbaceous perennials or annuals native to North America or eastern Asia that include Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), golden eardrops (D. chrysantha) and squirrel corn (D. canadensis). All Dicentra have finely divided fern-like leaves and bear racemes of pendent flowers. Each flower is composed of four petals, the outer two of which are modified into pouches or spurs hence the generic name derived from the Greek dis=twice and kentron= spur. The modified petals of bleeding heart form a heart-shape pouch surrounding the two inner petals that protrude from the pouch giving the plants their common name.
Four species of bleeding heart are good garden plants. Three bleeding hearts are herbaceous perennials and the fourth is an herbaceous perennial vine . The flowers and leaves arise directly from brittle rhizomes. Plants don’t respond well to being transplanted. All bleeding hearts like and rich, moist, well-drained soil and protection from hot sun, so morning sun and afternoon shade is ideal in warm climates.
Fringed Bleeding Heart (Dicentra exima)
A native of woodlands from in eastern US, fringed bleeding heart has blue-gray foliage and branched racemes bearing one inch long pink or white flowers with inner petals protruding conspicuously from the hear-shaped pouch.
Size: 9-1 ½ ‘ H x 9- 1 ½ ‘ W
Bloom Time: Spring to fall if soil kept moist
Hardiness: Zones 3-9
Western Bleeding Heart (Dicentra formosa)
A native wild flower western bleeding heart is very similar to fringed bleeding heart. The major difference is that the inner petals of western bleeding heart barely protrude from the heart-shaped pouch.
Size: 1 ½ ‘ H x 2-3’ W
Bloom Time: Late spring to early summer
Hardiness: Zones 3-9
Climbing Bleeding Heart (Dicentra scandens)
This native of Nepal and Tibet climbs by tendrils. The leaves are dark green and lobed; the flowers are yellow and ¾ to 1 inch long
Size: 10’ H x 3’ W
Bloom Time: Summer
Hardiness: Zones 6-9
Common Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis)
Common bleeding heart was first introduced to England from Japan in 1840 and is an outstanding garden plant. The flowers have pink hearts with two white petals protruding; the leaves are divided with wedge shaped leaflets. After blooming the plants go dormant. ‘Pantaloons’ is a superior white cultivar.
Size: 1H x ½ -2 ½’ x 2-3’ W
Bloom Time: Spring
Hardiness: Zones 2-9
Several hybrids have been produced from crosses between D. exima and D. formosa the most outstanding of which are ‘Luxuriant’ (cherry red flowers), ‘Bountiful’ (rose-red flowers), and ‘Snowdrift’ (white).