Old fash­ioned bleed­ing heart be­longs in ev­ery gar­den

Manitoba Gardener Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Dorothy Dob­bie

If a lovely bleed­ing heart has shown up, un­aided, in your gar­den, it may have been planted by an ant from a neigh­bour­ing yard. Bleed­ing heart seeds con­tain elio­some, lipids or mol­e­cules that in­clude a lot of ant nour­ish­ment, in­clud­ing vi­ta­mins such as A, D, E and K, not to men­tioned all the glyc­erides, as well as fats, waxes and sterols. Ants gather the seeds, eat the elio­some and toss the re­main­ing seed, un­harmed, in their mid­den where it of­ten sprouts.

A big patch of bleed­ing heart is a boon to hum­ming­birds that are this lovely plant’s main pol­li­na­tor. They slip their long slen­der bills between the pink petals and up into the nec­tar rich white in­te­rior.

Most gar­dener know bleed­ing heart botan­i­cally as Di­cen­tra spectabilis. The word di­cen­tra is from the Greek: dis mean­ing twice and ken­tron, mean­ing spur. Now the ever-busy plant clas­si­fiers have set one va­ri­ety aside in a class of its own and now call it Lam­p­ro­cap­nos, but agree

that it is still pretty spectabilis! These nam­ing words make no dif­fer­ence to the gar­dener, who will al­ways call this pretty plant bleed­ing heart, no mat­ter what the ex­perts say.

Bleed­ing hearts have other names, of course. A wild North Amer­i­can va­ri­ety is called Dutch­man’s Breeches. An­other name is lyre flower, for its grace­ful shape. Turn it up­side down, pull back the breeches and sud­denly you see the rea­son some peo­ple call it lady-in-a-bath. The com­mon name of one va­ri­ety from eastern North Amer­ica is squirrel corn for its tight, corn-like clus­ters of bul­bets.

Many bleed­ing heart va­ri­eties are rhi­zoma­tous, send­ing out run­ners un­der­ground. Oth­ers have root bul­bets shaped like lit­tle teardrops

Scot­tish botanist and plant smug­gler, Robert For­tune, is cred­ited with bring­ing bleed­ing hearts to the Royal Botanic Gar­den in Ed­in­burgh between 1848 and 1851. He was a busy man in his short time in the Far East, be­ing the one who smuggled tea out of China and into In­dia. Ex­port of tea from China was for­bid­den at the time.

Many bleed­ing hearts are ephemer­als, mean­ing that they bloom then die back early in the year. While their pretty, deeply dis­sected leaves would be a plus in any gar­den, those that die back can open up room for a late bloom­ing plant in a full peren­ni­als gar­den. Why are they tough? Just ask the neigh­bour­hood deer that tend to avoid their al­ka­loid-filled stems and fo­liage.

Deer are pretty smart. Eat enough bleed­ing heart parts and you could en­counter trem­bling, vom­it­ing, di­ar­rhea, con­vul­sions and trou­ble breath­ing. How­ever, if you have a toothache, di­cen­tra root can numb your gums and help you through it.

‘Gold Span’ has golden yel­low fo­liage. ‘Alba’ has all white flow­ers. Both are lovely. Grow them in light to medium shade in a well-drained lo­ca­tion. Sow in fall so that the seeds can go through scar­i­fi­ca­tion (ex­po­sure to cold). The plants will emerge early in spring, grow­ing from one to three feet tall and wide. Each raceme will pro­duce about 20 del­i­cate blos­soms.

Bleed­ing hearts have brit­tle, tuber­ous roots that will break off eas­ily when be­ing trans­planted. Long lived peren­ni­als, they will grow hap­pily for 30 years with­out trans­plant. They are easy to in­crease by di­vid­ing ev­ery five years or so.

Bleed­ing hearts bloom early in the year be­fore fad­ing out.

Lam­p­ro­cap­nos spectabilis 'Alba'.

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