Gardening for Health

A Plant for Your Achy Breaky Heart 

At this time of extreme stress, the plant world offers symbolic fixes for many saddened hearts.  

I believe the perennial known as old-fashioned bleeding heart to be one of the most beautiful flowers. Its botanical name is Dicentra spectabalis. It has lovely long wands of pink hearts with what looks like a drop of blood dripping from the bottom. As a child, I first saw a drawing of this flower in a coloring book and I couldn’t believe that a flower existed that actually looked like that.  

Bleeding heart likes to grow in shady areas especially with moist soil. It is a long-lived perennial that completely disappears by mid-summer. It’s good to plant them near a shrub or other perennial that will cover their empty space.  

Old fashioned bleeding heart is usually pink, but there are also white, red and yellow varieties. There’s a new red form known as ‘Valentine’. The native bleeding heart is called cutleaf bleeding heart or Dicentra eximia. It is not as showy as the old-fashioned bleeding heart. It has myriads of small elongated heart-shaped, rose-pink flowers with grayish-green fern-like foliage. This one starts blooming in May and continues into the fall. This woodland native is shorter, 12 to 18 inches in height and does well in shade or sun.   

Bleeding heart is also the subject of a folk tale. Princess Dicentra was walking through the woods one day when an old witch grabbed her and put a curse on her. The witch stuck her inside a bleeding-heart flower only allowing her to be released by a prince. Of course, one day, a prince rode by on his horse and jumped off to examine a beautiful flower growing by a stream. He plucked the heart-shaped flower and released Princess Dicentra from the flower. (You too, can do this, by turning the flower upside down and pulling the pink petals down of her dress and Princess Dicentra’s head and upper body will pop up above her petal skirts.) Of course, the prince and princess lived happily ever after.