A native shade-loving plant, Pacific bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa) blooms in early spring, giving your garden much-needed color just as other plants are starting to grow. The bleeding heart, sometimes called Dutchman's Britches, grows well under deciduous trees, where it receives plenty of early spring sun. As the trees' leaves appear, bleeding heart is shaded from the summer heat until it dies back. Add some to your garden for gentle, eye-catching color and texture.
Delicate, lacy fern-like leaves and white or pinkish-purple heart-shaped flowers dangle from long, drooping branches. A showstopper in early spring, bleeding heart grows to 18 inches tall, with the first blossoms appearing in late April and lasting several weeks. After the flowers fade, small brown pod-like capsules form. These capsules contain several black seeds with small, oil-rich appendages attractive to ants.
Native to the Pacific coast, Pacific bleeding heart is a hardy perennial that thrives in full to partly shady areas. Typically found in the moist areas, ravines and stream banks of woodland forests, this plant is a favorite of shady understory gardens. The plants grow in USDA Hardiness Zones 4a to 10b.
Bleeding heart works well behind smaller plants, gracing the background with their swaying branches. Bleeding heart also thrives under shady trees or in rock gardens with moist soil. The plants love slightly acidic soil, like that found in woodland forests, and require well-drained soil to grow. Since the plants die back by early to mid-summer, you may want to plant other shade-loving plants nearby to fill the gaps during the rest of the summer. Pacific bleeding heart pairs well with other woodland species such as columbine, meadow rue and wild ginger.
Gardeners can choose from several varieties of Pacific bleeding hearts including Aurora with white flowers or Ivory Hearts with ivory-colored, heart-shaped blossoms. King of Hearts is a showy variety featuring masses of rosy pink flowers.
When food remains scarce in early spring, bleeding heart provides a great food source for hummingbirds, who sip its nectar as they tend to their early-season nests. Butterflies and small birds also rely on this food source. Ants carry the bleeding heart's seeds to their nests, eat the white appendages and dispose of the rest of the seed.