Bleeding Hearts: What Secrets Do They Hold Inside Their Blossoms?

By Larry Rettig (LarryR) on August 17, 2010

Perhaps you remember from your own childhood—or that of a friend or relative—the art of making “dolls” wearing gowns fashioned from Hollyhock blossoms. Flower shapes and colors can remind us of real-life objects. Dutchman’s Pipe, Lady’s Slipper Orchid, and Stella d’Oro (Italian for “star of gold”) come to mind. Bleeding Heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) belongs to this group as well, but its blossoms are special because they reveal an entire story. This is how it’s told.



s the narrator (in this case the author) begins the story, he holds a Bleeding Heart blossom in the palm of his outstretched hand.  Then he begins:

Long, long ago there lived a noble prince in a far-off land.  He had fallen in love with a beautiful princess and often brought her wonderful gifts from his distant travels.  But alas, the princess was not interested in him or his gifts.

One day the prince returned from an especially long journey with some very special gifts that he was sure would win the princess over.  First he presented her with two magical pink bunnies.  (At this point the narrator peels off the two outer pink petals and sets them on their sides, revealing two little pink bunnies.)  See photos at left below.


The princess gave a sigh of boredom and scarcely looked at the bunnies.  “Ah,” said the prince hopefully, “but I have something else for you.”  He presented her with a pair of dazzling earrings.  (Here the narrator removes the two long white petals and holds them up against the ears of one of the ladies or young girls in the audience.)  See photo at left below.

Again, the princess shunned his gift.  Realizing the futility of his attempts, the prince was utterly heartbroken.  So dark was his mood that he reached down, pulled a dagger from its sheath, and plunged it through his heart.  (At this point the narrator holds up the remaining heart-shaped part of the flower, which has a stamen at its center shaped like a dagger.  For special effect—depending on the audience—the narrator takes the dagger out and plunges it through the flower heart.)  See photo at left below.

The princess was overcome with emotion.  Too late she realized that her coyness had hidden her love for the prince all too well.  “Woe is me!” she sobbed.  “I have wronged my beloved prince.  My heart, too, is broken.  It shall bleed for my prince forever more.”  And her heart still bleeds in this flower today.

A bit gruesome, perhaps, but this is, after all, the story of a bleeding heart.  Discretion, with a bit of editing, is probably a good idea if there are very young children in the audience.

A Bleeding Heart plant in full bloom has many blossoms, so you can pick several without ruining the show.  If you don’t have your own plant, you can still practice the story, if you’d like to.  In the springtime, just ask any owner of a Bleeding Heart plant for permission to pick a heart and share with that person the mysteries within.

More on Bleeding Hearts*

T he botanical name for Bleeding Hearts was originally Dicentra spectabilisDicentra is a Greek word meaning "two spurs," and spectabilis, from the same language, means "worthy of notice" or "spectacular" (which this plant certainly is!).

Dicentra spectabilis, which also has a white form, is a herbaceous perennial native to Japan and southeast Asia.  There are native North American species as well.  (Click on link and then click on individual species names.)

Bleeding Hearts fare best in light shade and well-drained, fertile soil.  They bloom in April/May and may go dormant where summers are hot.  They are very hardy, growing in zones 2 through 9.

Another Bleeding Heart generally available to gardeners is the Fernleaf Bleeding Heart, of which the most popular at the moment is a cultivar called 'Burning Hearts.'

There is also a Bleeding Heart that vines and blooms with yellow hearts.  To learn more about this vine, click here.
Article and photos © Larry Rettig 2010   


*A word of caution:  According to the extension office of Texas A&M University, the foliage and roots of Bleeding Hearts are toxic when ingested.

Related articles:
Bleeding Hearts, Dicentra, fairy tale, flower stories, Lamprocapnos, perennial plants

About Larry Rettig
"An enthusiastic gardener for over 50 years, my first plant was a potted Ponderosa Lemon tree ordered from a comic book ad at age 15. I still have it, and it’s still bearing lemons! My wife and I garden on 3/4 of an acre, both flowers and vegetables. Our garden, named Cottage-in-the-Meadow Gardens, is private and is listed with the Smithsonian Institution in its Archives of American Gardens. It is also on the National Register of Historic Places. We garden organically and no-till. Our vegetable garden contains a seed bank of vegetables brought to this country from Germany in the mid-1800s by my ancestors. My latest book, Gardening the Amana Way, is available at

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
Fascinating Story nap Nov 25, 2010 4:03 PM 12
Toxicity of Dicentra Spectablis. NEILMUIR1 Aug 23, 2010 11:20 AM 10
I love fairy tales... Sharon Aug 17, 2010 11:50 PM 1

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