February 1, 2013

I thought I would start my blogging career with a post about my favorite native plant: Dicentra eximia or eastern native bleeding heart.  In the southern Appalachians its rare to see this plant in the wild, which is interesting because it is easy to grow and is happy in many garden conditions.  My best educated guess is that its native habitats--between rocks in rich woods,  on rock outcrops, in ravines,  or on cliffs-- are not the most hospitable for plant growth and reproduction.

Dicentra eximia / eastern bleeding heart
The foliage is a medium green to blue-green.  The leaves are deeply dissected, creating a delicate lacy look.   The plant grows to about 1-1.5 ft tall in a wide mounding form unless it is growing out of a rock crevice and then it is smaller.   From March through the first hard frost (here sometime in October) pink heart shaped flowers dangle from stems that rise 6'' above the foliage.  Unlike its Asian cousin, eastern native bleeding heart does not die back in mid-summer.

As the flowers are pollinated and fade, small pea-like pods take shape and 4-6 weeks later beautiful shiny black seeds are ready for harvesting.  You can see the seed color through the pods so you know when to harvest.  Soon after the pods pop open and a natural reseeding cycle starts in the garden.  Not to worry, this is not an aggressive plant.  One of the joys of growing species plants is the gentle migration of  native plants through the garden.

This is a great garden plant whether you are a die-hard native only gardener or love a mixed border or formal garden.  I have planted D. eximia in our heavy clay soils and in sandy environs in the sun, in the shade and everything in between.  It always performs.  It is at its best in rich loamy soil that gets morning sun.

Finding this plant in anything but a native species nursery is difficult.  You will find many bleeding heart hybrids, some using D. eximia as a parent.  Just know that no hybrid will come true from seed.  Seek out a local native plant nursery and ask if they grow this wonderful plant.