No better common name for Lamprocapnos spectabilis than bleeding heart as it reveals its teardrop when the heart breaks. Its species epithet, spectabilis, appropriately articulates its charming blooms rising above the foliage, even if melancholy ensues. Lower limbs will have blooms, too, silhouetted against the light green leaves. Bleeding hearts will go completely dormant starting in mid-summer (pending available soil moisture); their long dormancy enables mail order suppliers to easily ship them everywhere. While popular among gardeners, these delicate appearing plants are not commonly specified by California's landscape architects.
For our state's climate, their short but active growth and bloom cycle does not lend itself to standard ornamental landscapes. Coupled with their need for regular moisture and shade, the best opportunities to use them may be for intimate spaces, such as secret gardens, small woodlands, courtyards, containers, or of course, residential gardens. Their unusual flowers may also attract the plant collector who might have a lathe house for displaying shade plants.
Despite their short cycles, each year the stems form the plant's mound to upright structure that can reach to three feet tall and wide. While each plant may take up space in its growth cycle, their dormancy leaves gaps in the garden. This dormancy will provide opportunities for succession through the season to keep things interesting. For example, plant low growing ferns at its base as a filler during the bleeding heart's slumber. Specifying layering of plants such as this example is an opportunity for designers to integrate in plans more tender species.
If its size is too cumbersome, consider California's native Lamprocapnos formosa, or Western Bleeding Heart. It develops as an 18" tall, 3' wide mass, and the flower clusters rise just above the foliage. As with our subject species, this native will also perform best with ample moisture, and as summer lingers, will slowly recede underground until the following year.
The genus has changed! I have always known this species under the genus Dicentra, but along with new research comes new understanding. At the time of this post, I do not have specific background for why the name changed, but the Royal Horticulture Society offers this description:
From Greek lampros meaning 'bright' and kapnos meaning 'smoke': the first part refers to the vivid flowers, while the second is common in members of the family Fumariaceae (now subsumed in Papaveraceae), which are said to have a smoky smell (p. 178).
Cultivars offer variations:
'Alba': Flowers are all white.
'Gold Heart': Yellow foliage with pink flowers with white pendulous center.
'Valentine': Nearly red exterior petals with contrasting white pendulous center.
Oddly, I have been unable to find an online photo of the entire plant available with a Creative Commons license, nor have I had an opportunity to photograph one. If anyone out there would like to offer a free version or access to photographing (within the Bay Area), please let me know. The video below does show a good specimen.
Eric Larson of the Marsh Botanical Garden at Yale University:
Botanical Name: Lamprocapnos spectabilis
Lamprocapnos: Greek, lampros for bright and kapnos for smoke.
Spectabilis: Spectacular or showy
Common Name: Bleeding heart
Family Name: Papaveraceae
Positioning: Foreground, potted
Garden Themes: Woodland, shade, coastal (protect from wind), pollinator, hummingbird
Uses: Border. Intermix with succession planting when it returns to dormancy, such as Hosta or as mentioned Ophiopogon. Accent, container, specimen (may be short-lived in Southern California).
Type: Herbaceous perennial (may be treated as an annual)
Form: Mound, upright
Size: 3' tall and 2.5' wide
Outstanding Feature(s): Flower
Stem: Green to red-orange, fleshy
Type: Bipinnately compound
Shape: Obovate, ovate
Margin: Entire, lobed, incised
Color: Medium green (cultivars may vary)
Flower: Showy. Pendulous raceme along stem, terminus, cordate with pink outer and white inner petals. Cultivars may be all white, bicolor red/white, pink/white, or all pink.
Fruit: Green capsule with black seeds, inconspicuous
cultural requirements, tolerances & problems
Sunset Zones: A1-A3; 1-9, 14-24
USDA Zones: 3-9
Light: Partial to full shade
WUCOLS SF Bay Area Hydro Zone: Moderate
Texture: Sand, loam, well composted with humus
Moisture Retention: Even moisture; summer dryness will initiate dormancy (winter wet is also not preferred, thus well-draining is most desirable)
pH: Slightly acidic to neutral
Tolerances: Deer, drought
Problems: Slugs and snails, summer dormancy, slight toxicity
Branch Strength: N/A
citations & attributions
Bayton, R. (2019). The Royal Horticultural Society's the Gardener's Botanical: An Encyclopedia of Latin Plant Names. London: Mitchell Beazley.
Extension Gardener. "Lamprocapnos spectabilis." North Carolina State University, Raleigh. Accessed on November 21, 2021, from https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/lamprocapnos-spectabilis/.
Norris Brenzel, K. (Ed.). (2012). The New Sunset Western Garden Book. New York: Time Home Entertainment, Inc. (See Dicentra spectabilis, p. 287).
Plant Finder. "Lamprocapnos spectabilis." Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis. Accessed on November 21, 2021, from https://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=c480.
School of Horticulture Plant Database. "Lamprocapnos spectabilis ( syn. Dicentra)." Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Surrey. Accessed on November 21, 2021 from https://plantdatabase.kpu.ca/plant/plantDetail/660.
Water Use Classification of Landscape Species. "WUCOLS IV Plant List." University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Davis. Accessed on November 21, 2021, from https://ucanr.edu/sites/WUCOLS/Download_WUCOLS_IV_List/.
Feature flower detail: "Lamprocapnos (Dicentra) spectabilis - Bleeding Hearts" by Nathan Reading is licensed under Creative Commons NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
Leaf detail: "Bleeding Heart | lamprocapnos spectabilis (leaves)" by Amy Sept is licensed under Creative Commons NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).