A Remarkable Smokey Light

Dicentra Flowers


The bleeding heart or Dicentra spectabilis has long been cultivated in China and Japan but it wasn’t until after 1840 that bleeding heart became a plant in European and American gardens. Bleeding heart was introduced to England in the 1840’s by Robert Fortune, a Scottish plant hunter and botanist working for the British East India Company.

The name Dicentra spectabilis is from the Greek dikentro (di– “two” and kentron– “spur, sharp point”) for the flared petals and the New Latin spectabilis meaning “remarkable, worthy of consideration” in particular reference to the showy flowers.


Dicentra spectabilis


Bleeding heart is now separated from other Dicentra into its own monotypic genus named Lamprocapnos, a word derived from the New Latin lampro (“bright”, like the flowers) and the Greek capnos (“smokey”). Capnos alludes to its similarity to the related genus Fumaria (Latin fumus meaning “smokey”) some of which were burned as smokey fumigants or believed to have sprung from the smokey netherworld and so useful in exorcisms. Capnos was also an alternate name for Fumaria. At one time bleeding heart was placed in the genus Fumaria and called Fumaria spectabilis. Taxonomy can be vexing a bit.


Dicentra spectabilis


Bleeding heart is easily grown in any garden with rich moist soil and partial shade. Large plants can be divided in the early spring just as the first shoots appear. Split the plant so that each root has at least one healthy bud. The buds should be buried about one inch deep under the soil. Seeds can also be planted as soon as they are ripe. As bleeding heart re-seeds readily in a short time there will be many seedlings to transplant to new areas and new gardens.

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