Dicentra formosa plant and flowers

Dicentra formosa Growing And Care Guide

The western bleeding heart, Dicentra formosa, also known as the Pacific bleeding heart, is a blooming plant in the poppy family that can be found from California to British Columbia in damp, forested environments. From a horizontal rootstock, it is a perennial (tuber). The plant can grow as tall as 0.5 meters. The flower has four one to two-centimeter-long petals that range in color from purple to pink to almost white. The outer 2 petals form a rough heart shape by bending and pouching.

Finely split, fern-like leaves sprout from the plant’s base. From mid-spring to autumn, with spring being the prime flowering season, clusters of heart-shaped,  red, pink, or white flowers appear above the leaves at the top of thick, leafless stalks.


What is Dicentra formosa?

Dicentra formosa flowers

A lush perennial plant called Dicentra formosa is renowned for its distinctive inflorescences. Western bleeding heart or the Pacific bleeding heart are typical names for it. This plant was discovered for the first time by a European traveler on the western coast of North America, and its decorative cultivation of it dates back to the early 1800s.


Here are some brief facts about the popular aesthetic plant:

  • Latin name: Dicentra formosa
  • Other names: Pacific Bleeding Heart
  • Native to: Asia and North America
  • Invasiveness: No
  • Tenderness: Herbaceous perennial
  • Sun: Full sun to partial shade
  • Water: Low
  • Soil: Moist, well-drained, humus-rich soil
  • Hardiness zone: 3 – 9
  • When to plant: Spring
  • Spacing: 3 ft
  • Plant height: 0.7 – 1.6 ft
  • Bloom period: Summer
  • Time to maturity: 3-6 months
  • Container friendly: Yes
  • Fertilizer: 10-10-10
  • Toxicity: Yes
  • Drought tolerant: Yes
  • Deer resistant: Yes
  • Pest resistant: No

How to grow Pacific bleeding heart

Dicentra formosa flowers

The beautiful pink flowers and lacy foliage of this perennial conceal its tough exterior. The blue-green foliage and heart-shaped blooms of the Pacific bleeding heart, used as a groundcover or accent plant, brighten fully to part shade. In full to partial shade, the Pacific bleeding heart grows between ten and twenty inches tall. From February through March the leaves pop out of the ground, and in late March, the plant begins to blossom. If you continue to pick the blossoms, they might bloom all summer.


Although it adores damp soil, it dislikes standing water. It needs plenty of water for the first two years it is in your garden before it can withstand the dry shade and our dry summers without further irrigation.  It looks to be a native herbaceous perennial that thrives in urban woodlands, as far as I can tell.


The two outer petals of the flower, which are pouched out or saccate at the base, give it its heart-shaped shape.


In particular, during the chilly winters, the Western bleeding heart needs to be regularly mulched with decomposing humus. Colonies are established via the propagation of extensive rhizome systems. Many isoquinoline alkaloids found in the Pacific bleeding heart make the entire plant poisonous when present in significant amounts. Skin irritation, trembling, stumbling, vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, and difficulty breathing are among the symptoms.


Growing Pacific bleeding heart in containers

Rhizome divisions should be transplanted vertically in moist peat pots at eye level with the soil. The following year, little, flowering plants will be ready. It is also possible to cultivate this plant from seeds, however, it takes a while for seedlings to mature.


When to start Dicentra formosa seeds

The flowers produce lengthy, pea-like seed pods after being pollinated. In the summer, gather seeds, then plant them in the late winter.


When to plant Dicentra formosa

When there is no risk of frost and the plants are still dormant, early spring is the ideal time to grow Pacific Bleeding Hearts. Bare-root plants that are dormant are incredibly simple to handle and usually adapt fast. Strong roots should start to emerge in the fall, and sprouts and blossoms should start to appear in the spring.

How to collect Dicentra formosa seeds

Pacific bleeding heart produces 1-2 inch long, somewhat unkempt-looking pods that contain its dark seeds. That little white piece on each seed is actually fat. Give it a few weeks to dry. 

Wildlife attracted by Dicentra formosa

Deer and rabbits are not attracted to bleeding hearts. Hummingbirds, butterflies, and other helpful pollinators love it. A symbiotic interaction exists between this plant and ants on the forest floor. It produces lustrous, black seeds with little white appendages on them. Ants are drawn to these greasy, white areas on the seeds. The ants pick them up, transport them back to their hills or burrows, eat the white portion of the seed that is still attached to it, and then discard the remaining material on their trash piles. These seeds subsequently sprout where they land.

Common problems

As the temperature rises, the bleeding heart naturally becomes yellow and expires. There is no need to take any action if that is the case. The plant is starting its typical growth cycle by going into dormancy.

Yellowing leaves can also happen if a plant receives too much water, its soil is too alkaline, or it receives too much sunlight. You can change such conditions as needed.

The plant will first show signs of wilting before turning completely brown or starting to decompose. When a plant has botrytis, it will seem as though a grey mold is engulfing it. When the correct growing circumstances are present, bleeding heart plants don’t typically pose a problem. Most of their frequent difficulties are caused by poor watering or pest and disease issues.

The plant most likely has fungal leaf spots if the bleeding heart develops little brown or black spots on the leaves that enlarge and have a yellow ring or halo with the center of the ring starting to rot out. The one drawback is that it does go into dormancy in the late summer when its leaves start to wither.

Mayukh Saha
Freelance Writer
Mayukh is a Content Marketer and Social Media Manager with over 5 years of experience in the industry. Mayukh believes in the power of content; how it can positively impact lives, scale businesses and touch people. In his spare time Mayukh likes to read about latest tech trends and loves to travel in the nature. You can reach him at [email protected]