Dicentra Formosa, also known as western or Pacific bleeding heart, is a herbaceous perennial. It has fragile, fern-like foliage which grows from the bleeding heart’s base.
It is native from the woodlands of California to British Columbia and it grows best in the United States Department of Agriculture’s hardiness zones four to eight.
The western bleeding heart grows up to a height of two feet, plus it grows to about two feet wide. It blooms in the spring, usually around April to May. The blossoms are red, pink or white. The flowers are borne on the long stems which are leafless and fleshy. The petals are attached at the base. Two outer petals create a pouch which curve to the outside at the tips. Two inner petals grow perpendicular to the outer petals. These inner petals connect at the tips. From within the petals, two small, pointed sepals grow. The entire blossom creates a heart-shaped flower. The nectar from these flowers attracts hummingbirds and butterflies.
The seeds of the western bleeding heart grow in pointed, plump pods. Quite often the plant will go dormant after its spring blooming, only to bloom once again in the autumn.
There are two subspecies to the western bleeding heart. Dicentra Formosa subspecies Formosa has leaves that are bluish-grey to green on the undersides. The flowers are pinkish-purple, pink or white. This subspecies is found on the western slope of Sierra Nevada coast ranges to central California, the Cascades and in southwestern British Columbia. Dicentra Formosa subspecies oregona has bluish-grey to green coloring on the upper and undersides of the leaves and the flowers are cream or pale yellow. It is found in a small area in northwestern California and southwestern Oregon.
The western bleeding heart adapts well in rock gardens. They do need partial shade and a damp area. The leaves do not drop off in the summer as long as the plant receives enough shade. If it receives too much sun the leaves die back until the following spring.
The western bleeding heart grows well with other plants that have similar growth requirements such as fringe cups, wind ginger, meadow rue and columbine.
This plant has very few pests which are attracted to it, which can make it an ideal area of focus in many yards or woodlands. For the areas of the yard that are too damp or too shady for other plants, the western bleeding heart is ideal.