Friday, June 18, 2010
Dicentra eximia, The Little Darling of the Spring Garden
I am sure at least some of you remember, or have in your garden right now, the bleeding heart in this picture. It is a native of Asia and was once known as Dicentra spectabilis. It is now known as Lamprocapnos spectabilis and is not a direct relation of our wonderful native Dicentra eximia (Fringed Bleeding Heart). Taxonomists just love to drive us all crazy and change the names of plants! I can't tell you how many times plant names have been changed only to be changed back to the original genus names based on DNA evidence. Anyway! I have always loved the look of the old fashioned bleeding heart that was probably in your grandmother's flower garden; but, in my opinion, that plant is 'ordinary' once you have grown our native bleeding heart. This little gem has wonderful gray-green leaves and beautiful little pink flowers that are so dainty that they belie the resolve of this little plant. Native bleeding hearts are edge of the woods plants and as such can grow in partial sun to almost full shade. They are drought resistant and will grow without the need for pesticides and fertilizer. All they ask from you is to plant them in soil with good humus (like under trees or in areas where you used to grow grass) and water them in well for the first year. If you noticed in the last sentence, I was hinting at the idea of removing more of your grass that may be in a shady area as your trees mature and making more flower beds that will not need to be mowed and will be MUCH prettier than grass! Reducing the amount of grass in your yard not only reduces the need to mow but also reduces your carbon footprint by reducing the emissions from your mower and reducing the amount of runoff from the pesticides and fertilizers used to keep that grass growing. You will also save a lot of money - something we all need to do these days!
Dicentra eximia is hardy from zones 3a to 9b and will flower throughout the spring, summer and fall. It loves acidic soil and is native to most states east of the Mississippi except New England. Sadly, it is endangered in PA and NJ, and threatened in MD, due to loss of habitat so those of us in suburbia need to grow this little beauty so the birds and bees that love it can find food to eat. It is deer resistant and can be used in mass plantings like a groundcover. It grows well along the edges of streams and ponds but does not like to have wet 'feet' in the winter. This is one reason that the fringed bleeding heart may not come back after the first year and I am sure many people have had this problem. When they read, or are told when they buy this plant, that the plant does well by streams or ponds - like in my last sentence - what that really means is that they like the humidity and open environment around bodies of water. If you walk along the edge of a pond or stream, it is not wet and spongy - it is moist and has an environment with higher humidity than other areas in a woodland. So, plant this little guy in areas of your yard that have moist, rich soil and have a northern exposure or are protected from the direct sun; but no areas that do not drain well or have standing water, please!
The flowers of the fringed bleeding heart are much smaller and longer than the old fashioned bleeding heart but the inflorescence that they grow on are longer so the flowers look bigger. There are at least two cultivars of the native fringed bleeding heart; Dicentra eximia 'Alba' and Dicentra eximia 'Snowdrift'. They are both white-flowered cultivars, with the flowers of 'Snowdrift' being larger than 'Alba'. This is one great little plant for your spring, summer, and fall garden - so, go out a buy a few for your garden!
Next time: Amsonia tabernaemontana, Eastern Bluestar!