Asian Bleeding Heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis)

Asian Bleeding Heart, Bleeding Heart, Japanese Bleeding Heart, Locks and Keys, Old-Fashioned Bleeding Heart, Showy Bleeding Heart

Bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) is a flowering plant related to the poppy. Bleeding heart is native to Siberia, China, Korea, and Japan. This plant is commonly referred to as the Japanese bleeding heart. Bleeding heart is a popular ornamental plant and grows best in moist soils and full sunlight.

I. Appearance and Characteristics 

Lamprocapnos spectabilis, bleeding heart or Asian bleeding-heart, is a species of flowering plant belonging to the fumitory subfamily (fumarioideae) of the poppy family Papaveraceae, and is native to Siberia, northern China, Korea, and Japan. It is the sole species in the monotypic genus Lamprocapnos, but is still widely referenced under its old name Dicentra spectabilis (now listed as a synonym), not to be confused with the North American native bleeding heart plants also classified under Dicentra. It is valued in gardens and in floristry for its heart-shaped pink and white flowers, borne in spring.

Other common names include lyre flower, heart flower, and lady-in-a-bath.

In Korea L. spectabilis behaves as a shade-loving chasmophyte, growing in rock crevices at low altitudes in the mountains of the central and southern parts of the country.

The Asian bleeding-heart grows to 120 cm (47 in) tall by 45 cm (18 in) wide. It is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial with 3-lobed compound leaves on fleshy green to pink stems. The arching horizontal racemes of up to 20 pendant flowers are borne in spring and early summer. The outer petals are bright fuchsia-pink, while the inner ones are white. The flowers strikingly resemble the conventional heart shape, with a droplet beneath – hence the common name.

The plant sometimes behaves as a spring ephemeral, becoming dormant in summer.

In a moist and cool climate, it will grow in full sun, but in warmer and drier climates it requires some shade.

Aphids, slugs and snails sometimes feed on the leaves.

Clumps remain compact for many years and do not need dividing. They have brittle roots which are easily damaged when disturbed. Root cuttings should be taken in spring.

Seeds with whitish elaiosomes are borne in long pods. They must be sown while fresh. Division should be done in the late fall (autumn) or early spring.

Contact with the plant can cause skin irritation in certain individuals, due to its containing isoquinoline alkaloids, including protopine, while consumption of the leaves can give rise to neurological symptoms, including confusion and irritability.

II. How to Grow and Care

Sunlight

Bleeding heart does best in partial shade but also can handle full shade. Direct sun can cause the plant to go dormant early, cutting its blooming period short.

Temperature and Humidity

This plant’s ideal temperature is between 55 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and it has good tolerance for high humidity. As the summer heat ramps up, you’ll likely see the foliage yellowing. This is a perfectly normal sign of the plant going dormant to store its energy.

Watering

Bleeding heart likes a lightly moist soil. It doesn’t tolerate soggy or dry soils very well. Water throughout the growing season when the top inch of soil has dried out, even during summer dormancy to keep the roots hydrated. But make sure the soil doesn’t stay waterlogged, which can lead to root rot.

Soil

Bleeding heart prefers humus-rich, moist, well-draining soil with lots of organic matter. A slightly acidic to neutral soil pH is best. Prior to planting, it’s ideal to work a few inches of compost into the soil, especially if you don’t have organically rich soil.

Fertilizing

Bleeding heart plants are not heavy feeders, so when to fertilize depends on the quality of your soil. If you have rich, organic soil amended every year, you likely won’t have to feed at all. If you have poor soil, you can apply an all-purpose, slow-release fertilizer in the spring. Also, as a woodland plant, bleeding heart does well with a top dressing of leaf mold.

Pruning

No major pruning is required, though you can trim back the foliage as it becomes brown and unsightly prior to dormancy. Fringed-leaf bleeding heart varieties can sometimes get a little ragged-looking and can be sheared back to their basal growth; they will re-leaf and rebloom. Refrain from deadheading (removing the spent blooms) if you want the flowers to go to seed.

Propagation

Bleeding heart is usually planted from nursery seedlings, but you can propagate bleeding heart from seeds, clump division, or stem cuttings. Propagation by cuttings is best done in spring to early summer. If you are starting from seeds in the garden, sow them in the fall. Propagation is a good way to rejuvenate older plants that tend to flower less. Here’s how to propagate bleeding hearts:

Propagation by division: It is very easy to divide the root clumps of bleeding heart plants. You should divide after flowering is complete, so you don’t sacrifice blooms. The fringed-leaf varieties also divide nicely early in spring as they are emerging.

  • First, gather your supplies. If the plant is in the ground, you will need a shovel or trowel. Other items you’ll need include a sterilized, sharp knife and a flat surface. If you’re transplanting into a container, you’ll need a pot and potting mix.
  • Dig a circle around the crown of the roots, and pull up the root ball. The roots grow horizontally. Do not worry when cutting through the roots.
  • Examine the root crown; look for pink buds of growth. Cut through the root ball, leaving at least one bud per sectioned area (two to three buds per section is better).
  • Replant the original root ball in its original spot. Plant the new section or sections in new spots or in potting mix enriched with compost or leaf mold. Water thoroughly to moisten the soil, but do not leave it too wet or soggy.

Propagation by cuttings: Bleeding heart can also be started by cuttings rooted in a growing medium. It can take one to three weeks before rooting occurs.

  • Use sterilized pruners to take a 3- to 5-inch cutting from a healthy bleeding heart plant. You’ll also need to gather a container, soilless potting mix, and a plastic bag. Optionally, you can use a rooting hormone for improving rooting success.
  • Take off the leaves from the bottom half of the stem cutting. Fill the container with the potting mix, and poke a hole in the center of the soil. Dip the cut end of the cutting into the rooting hormone, and put it into the hole. Firm the soil around the stem.
  • Water the soil to the point that it’s moist but not soggy. Put a clear plastic bag around the cutting, not touching the plant. If condensation appears on the inside of the bag, poke a hole in the plastic for some ventilation.
  • Place the plant in indirect light. A bright windowsill will be too sunny and scorch the plant. Make sure the soil remains moist but not soggy.

Once you notice new growth, the plant has successfully rooted. Remove the plastic bag.

Move the bleeding heart plant outdoors once it’s rooted well and new growth is more abundant. Harden off the plant in a protected spot for a few days before moving it to its permanent spot outdoors.

Potting and Repotting 

Bleeding heart plants do well as container plants, but conditions need to be right. When potting, opt for a large container—at least a 12-inch pot with drainage holes. Unglazed clay is a good material to allow excess moisture to evaporate through its walls. Use a quality, well-draining potting mix.

Bleeding heart can live for four to five years in a large container before becoming root-bound and needing to be repotted. Either divide your plant, or move up to a container that will fit its root ball with a couple inches to spare between it and the container walls. Gently ease the plant out of its old container, and place it at the same depth in the new one. Fill around it with potting mix, and water well.

Overwintering

Bleeding heart will naturally die back during the winter season. But the roots should survive the cold weather, even if the plant appears dead above ground. As the plant depreciates prior to winter, you can cut the stems down to 1 or 2 inches from ground level. Keep watering the soil up until the first frost. At the start of winter, you can protect the roots and help them retain moisture by adding a 2-inch layer of mulch on top of the plant stems. Remove the mulch as the ground thaws in the spring.

Pests and Diseases

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

The plant’s most significant pest problems are aphids, scale, slugs, and snails. The easiest and least invasive treatment for aphids and scale is using an insecticidal soap or neem oil. Slugs and snails are best remedied by physically picking them off and disposing of them in a bucket of soapy water. They are easiest to find at night and in the early morning.

Furthermore, bleeding heart is prone to fungal diseases, including powdery mildew and leaf spot. In most cases, you can treat the plant with a fungicide. But if the plant has turned black and foul-smelling, it’s rotting and can infect other nearby plants. So it’s best to pull up the plant. If it was in a container, sterilize the entire container and throw out the soil. If the disease occurred in your garden, treat the planting spot with a fungicide.

Common Problems 

Bleeding heart plants don’t tend to be problematic when the growing conditions are right. Most of their common issues stem from inadequate watering or pest and disease problems.

Powdery Patches on Foliage

Spots of black, gray, white, or pink powder on bleeding heart leaves indicate powdery mildew, a treatable disease when caught immediately. A fungicide will remove the problem. To prevent powdery mildew from occurring, make sure plants are watered on the soil (not on the foliage) and that the plants have plenty of aeration and are not too crowded.

Brown or Black Spots on the Leaves

If bleeding heart develops small brown or black spots on the leaves that grow larger with a yellow ring or halo with the center of the ring beginning to rot out, then the plant likely has fungal leaf spots. Treatment with a fungicide or baking soda solution can neutralize the fungus if caught early enough. As the disease progresses, the leaves drop and the plant will die.

Yellowing Leaves

Bleeding heart naturally turns yellow and dies as the temperature increases. If that is the case, there is no reason to do anything. The plant is entering dormancy, which is its normal growth cycle.

However, yellowing leaves can also occur if the plant is getting too much water, the soil is too alkaline, or the plant is getting too much sun. Adjust those conditions as necessary.

Also, check the plant for an infestation of aphids. Aphids suck the sap out of plants, depriving them of nutrients, which can cause yellowing leaves. Yellowing can also be a sign of a fungal disease emerging. Verticillium or fusarium are severe fungal infections that start with yellowing. If your plant has this disease, it is not salvageable and should be destroyed before it spreads to other plants.

Browning, Blackening, or Rapid Wilting of the Plant

Diseases like verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, botrytis, and root rot will cause a plant to fail quickly. Initial signs will be wilting, leading to all over browning or the plant beginning to rot. In the case of botrytis, it will appear like a gray mold is overtaking the plant. In most cases, if your plant is infected with these fungal issues and has begun browning or blackening, the plant is too far gone. You can attempt to resurrect it with a fungicide, but it’s not going to work in most cases. Remove all of the soil, discard it, and sterilize the container before using it again. Burn or seal the plant in a plastic bag before discarding it.

III. Uses and Benefits 

Bleeding heart is a seasonally popular garden choice for its striking flowers. It is effective in shadier and woodland areas, providing a pop of color. It is recommended to plant amongst a wide range of perennials, as it does go dormant in the warmer months and looks less impressive.

Asian Bleeding Heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) Details

Common name Asian Bleeding Heart, Bleeding Heart, Japanese Bleeding Heart, Locks and Keys, Old-Fashioned Bleeding Heart, Showy Bleeding Heart
Botanical name Lamprocapnos spectabilis
Plant type Herbaceous Perennial
Hardiness zone 3a, 3b, 4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b
Harvest time Spring
Height 2 ft. 0 in. - 3 ft. 0 in.
Width 2 ft. 0 in. - 3 ft. 0 in.
Sunlight Deep shade (Less than 2 hours to no direct sunlight)
Soil condition Clay
Flower color Pink
Leaf color Green