Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Gardening: Old-fashioned plants and new cultivars – Dicentra

I'm an old-fashioned guy... I want to be an old man with a beer belly sitting on a porch, looking at a lake or something. – Johnny Depp 

Old Fashioned Bleeding Heart "Gold Heart"
A new scientific name doesn't change a plant. All "bleeding hearts" used to be under the same classification, but that has recently changed. Just to add confusion when looking up plants I assume.

I took some pictures (during a rare sunny break) of two Bleeding Hearts in our garden. We have a third  "classic" variety but for some reason it's way behind the others this season. I need to investigate.

The classic flower. Photo: Wiki Commons
If you don't know Bleeding Heart, where have you been? They're a quintessential plant of everyone's grandmother's garden. If your grandmother didn't have one I bet one of your friend's grandmothers did. I posted earlier about another variety, Dutchman's Beeches. Still hoping for the seeds to do their thing this year…

Bleeding Hearts (until recently) fell under the general genus Dicentra, but now has been divided into several genus (genii?) under the family name Fumariaceae. Regardless, it doesn't matter, we don't run around calling plants by their scientific names anyway, or most of us don't…

Old Fashioned's flowers hang singly on long stems.
Old Fashioned Bleeding Heart
Old Fashioned Bleeding Heart (now Lamprocapnos spectabilis) is a herbaceous perennial plant that grows from a rhizome. It has the unmistakable split heart shaped flowers arranged on thin stems.

The stems can be up to 3 feet. (In our garden it exceeded 4 feet one great growing year.) The leaves are somewhat feathery and compound and are borne on the stems with the flowers. 

Although our old plant has a lot of growing to do yet, we have a cultivar in bloom right now in our garden. It's approaching 3 feet high. Gold Heart has beautiful yellow green leaves with the customary pink/red hearts dangling on tall pinkish stalks. It looks like the sun is constantly shining on it.

Old Fashioned Bleeding Heart often goes dormant during the summer and by Autumn may have died back to ground level. Old Fashioned is native to Eastern Asia from Siberia to southern Japan. It is supposed to be hardy between USDA Zones 3-9, but check if you purchase one what the rating is. I've found confusing information especially in cultivars.

Pacific Bleeding Heart is a North American wildflower.
Pacific Bleeding Heart 
Another old variety in country gardens is Dicentra Formosa. Dicentra formosa (Pacific Bleeding Heart) is the same, being herbaceous and growing from a rhizome. It is a woodland native from California to British Columbia.

Blooms are in clusters on flower stalks.
Pacific Bleeding Heart leaves are finely divided and fernlike, growing on stalks directly from the base of the plant. The overall shape is a mound of green. The flowers can be pink (usually), red, or white and are an elongated heart shape. The flowers boom in clusters atop 12" - 16" stems. Hardiness information states USDA Zone 3-8.

Usually there is a time during summer when they no longer flowers, but bloom again when the hot weather passes. They can continue to bloom from Spring through early Autumn if conditions are right.

Both plants are wonderful additions to your garden. They are susceptible to rot if in too wet a spot. They also resent being moved. So if you are moving one from one sot to another dig a great deal of dirt out with the plant and keep it intact. This will preserve all the fine roots around the main ones that can throw a transplanted specimen into shock.

Bleeding hearts are a reliable plant to have in your garden for mid-Spring enjoyment year after year.


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