The Bleeding Heart Flower

5 min read

The bleeding-heart flower is a gorgeous heart-shaped plant found around the orient, and is sometimes known as the Asian bleeding heart, lyre flower, and lady-in-a-bath flower. Although a singular species, it has a few varieties, with the white petaled Alba, yellow petaled Gold Heart and red-white Valentine being some of the most well-known. Most have a small dangling tip, which further helps its name along as it resembles a single drop of blood falling towards the ground.

Follow along and we can explore some of its fascinating story:

  • Where does it come from?
  • Bleeding heart attributes
  • Symbolism
  • Fun facts
  • Culinary uses
  • Medicinal uses
  • Nurturing a bleeding heart

Where Does It Come From?

The bleeding-heart flower, or properly named Lamprocapnos spectabilis, is native to the north of China, parts of Korea, Japan, and Siberia. The bleeding heart flower was later brought over to England and then to North America from Asia in the early 1800s. Formerly part of the genus Dicentra under the name dicentra spectabilis, It is now part of the Lamprocapnos genus and Fumariaceae family, and unlike most flowers, it is the sole species in its line.

Bleeding Heart Attributes

The bleeding-heart flower can grow as tall as 47 inches in height and 18 inches wide. Its rhizome, contained underground, allows it to store nutrients and energy for use throughout the season. It bears a green seed pod fruit that holds many small black seeds. A perennial flower, it has three-lobed leaves on generally green stems, although pink can be found as well. The exterior petals are shiny dark pink, while the interior tends to be more of a creamy white. It can have up to 20 flowers clustered around its top, which it discards at the end of the blooming season. As its name implies, the flowers tend to resemble the shape of a heart, at least what is shown in cultural images.

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Through its name, the bleeding-heart flower has culturally been thought to be attached to more negative connotations such as sadness and rejection but is more commonly exchanged by friends and lovers as a symbol of respect and love. The very rare white bleeding heart, whose beautiful petals are a sight to behold, is thought to symbolize innocence and purity. An old Japanese folk tale passed down through the generations tells the story of a wealthy prince who, after falling deeply in love with a maiden, was rejected by her, with each of the petals on the bleeding heart flower being said to symbolize the gifts, 20 in all, that he offered her as tokens of his affection and love. She was kind enough to accept each gift, but then spurned his offer of love as she did not feel the same.

Fun Facts

Butterflies and hummingbirds are the most common pollinators of the bleeding-heart flower, but interestingly enough it has some help spreading its seeds around from ants! The seeds are rich in elaiosome, a small tubular sac, which is filled with fatty lipids. The ants greedily take the seeds and eat up the fatty center back in their anthills, leaving the seeds around to germinate and spread. Other insect species like snails and aphids and the larvae of butterflies have been known to use their seeds as a food source as well. Another fun fact is that the bleeding-heart flower is quite naturally fire-resistant, which helps along in very dry climates, a useful skill indeed.

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Culinary Uses

Unfortunately, the bleeding-heart flower does not lend itself to the art of cooking. It is very toxic to humans, as well as animals. Although large quantities are needed to pose a risk to humans, anyone with a dog should be wary to let their curious canine companion venture anywhere near this flower. Larger dogs are known to get sick easily from it, and small dogs can get liver damage very quickly from ingesting it. Symptoms in humans include nausea, vomiting, and convulsions.

Medicinal Uses

In traditional circles, the roots of the plant have been used in herbal medicine as a mild stimulant, as well as a relaxant. The plant was sometimes used as a diuretic. Native Americans used it to treat coughs, dizziness, a few skin disorders, and insect bites. There are even reports of it being used as a kind of topical analgesic to numb teeth, useful for toothaches, as well as to help with hair loss. Due to its potentially toxic nature, this plant is advised to be used with extreme caution.

Nurturing a Bleeding Heart

Very popular among garden owners, the bleeding-heart flower has two possible blooming periods depending on the environment, either in the late spring or in the early summer. They are quite resistant to fire and can survive droughts handily, so it is a good choice if living in a dry environment. It is recommended to plant them tightly with other species of flowers, as they wither away quickly. A good amount of shade is necessary for them to grow well, in dry, neutral ph soil with lots of humus. The flowers are quite delicate, so picking a spot away from more rough weather is ideal. Moistening the ground during the growing season, although not too much and not on the foliage itself and fertilizing them well with a granular fertilizer can up your chances of keeping them going strong. They are deciduous and need to rest until next spring’s blooming season.

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The Lovely Bleeding Heart

For those of you hoping to spice up your garden, the lovely bleeding-heart flower is a must. With its unique look, the bleeding heart is one of the more delicate and beautiful flowers one can add to a collection or their garden, just make sure to keep any little pets away.

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