Wild bleeding hearts (Dicentra formosa) resemble their cultivated cousins, which are familiar flowers in gardens and landscaping throughout the United States. Also called Pacific bleeding hearts, this perennial, which spreads through underground rhizomes, is native to California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. Bleeding hearts bloom in moist woodlands and cool, sheltered places throughout their native range.
The leaves of this hairless plant are all basal and resemble lacework. A leafless flowering stalk rises slightly above the leaves. At the end of this stem is a cluster of nodding flowers. Four rose-colored petals form a flower that resembles a flattened heart-shaped sack. Two of the petals have spurs which extend beyond the base of the bloom. Bleeding hearts are very distinctive and easy to identify.
The fruits are pod-like capsules containing several black, shiny seeds. Each seed has an oil-rich appendage that is attractive to ants. Ants help disperse bleeding hearts seeds when they return the seeds to their nest.
Bleeding hearts contain alkaloids that can be poisonous to many animals, however, livestock find the plant unpalatable and therefore do not usually eat bleeding hearts. The Skagit did use a decoction of bleeding hearts to expel worms.
Bleeding hearts do not grow in Modoc County CA where Leonard and I live. Our dry environment is not a preferred habitat of bleeding hearts. These plants were photographed on BLM land near Howard Prairie Reservoir in Oregon. Some small animal or insects nibbled on the bleeding hearts petals in one picture exposing the inside of the “sack”.
The genus name, Dicentra, appropriately means “two-spurred”. The species name, formosa, means “beautiful or handsome” which bleeding hearts certainly are.