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Zones A1-A3, 1-9, 14-24, 31-40, 42-45
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Moderate

Dicentra

Bleeding Heart
Fumariaceae
Deciduous, Perennials

Bleeding hearts are delicate-looking plants, with graceful, divided, fernlike foliage. Dainty pendent flowers, usually heart shaped, in pink, rose, yellow, or white on leafless, horizontal to arching stems. In general, dicentras need rich, light, moist, porous soil. Never let water stand around roots. Foliage dies down even in mild-winter climates; mark clumps to avoid digging into roots in dormant season. Short-lived in mild-winter areas.

Dicentra chrysantha

Native to the inner coast ranges and Sierra Nevada foothills of California. Erect plant with sparse, blue-gray, divided leaves on stout, hollow, 4–5-ft. stems. Golden yellow, short-spurred flowers are held upright in large clusters. Grows to 1 1/2 ft. wide. Requires warmth. Unlike many dicentras, this species needs soil that is not too rich; make sure drainage is good. Plant has deep taproot and does not need irrigation during its flowering in spring and summer. Seed is available from wildflower specialists.

Dicentra eximia ‘Luxuriant’ (photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.)
Dicentra eximia ‘Luxuriant’ (photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.)

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Dicentra eximia

Native to the northeastern U.S. Forms a tidy clump 1–1 1/2 ft. high and wide. Blue-gray basal leaves are more finely divided than those of D. formosa. Deep rose-pink flowers with short, rounded spurs bloom from midspring into summer. Cut back for second growth and occasional repeat bloom. Does not spread by rhizomes but may extend itself by self-sowing.

Dicentra formosa

Native to moist woods along Pacific Coast. Grows to 1 1/2 ft. high, 3 ft. or wider. Blue-green foliage. In spring, leafless flower stalks hold clusters of pendulous pale or deep rose flowers on reddish stems. Spreads freely by rhizomes and seeding, forming large colonies. ‘Bacchanal’ has finely cut, gray-green leaves and dark red flowers. ‘Langtrees’ has silvery green foliage and white flowers shaded pink. ‘Zestful’ is everblooming, with deep rose flowers. D. f. oregana grows to 1 ft. high, has silvery green leaves and cream-colored flowers that are tipped with purple.

Dicentra ‘King of Hearts’ (photo courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.)
Dicentra ‘King of Hearts’ (photo courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.)

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Dicentra hybrids

D. eximia and D. formosa cross freely to yield hybrids, many of which have been named. The most commonly cultivated grow to 1–1 1/2 ft. high and 1 1/2–2 ft. across (eventually spreading more widely) and bloom from spring into summer.

Dicentra spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’ (photo courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.)
Dicentra spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’ (photo courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc.)

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Dicentra spectabilis

Native to Japan. Old garden favorite; the showiest and largest-leafed of all bleeding hearts. Grows to 2–3 ft. high, 3 ft. wide; stems are set with soft green leaves. Blooms in late spring, bearing flowers on one side of arching stems—rose pink, pendulous, heart shaped, with protruding white inner petals.

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