If there is a flower that brings out the child in us, it has to be the bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis). It is inevitable that anyone who has never seen these before will bend to get a closer look at the dancing little hearts that line up along the slender branches. The bleeding heart actually does look like a dripping heart, and if you turn it upside down and pull it open a bit, it looks like a lady in a bath. In fact, lady in a bath is another name for it.
Bleeding heart was originally from China. In 1842, Robert Fortune set out to explore an unknown world and sent back many of our garden treasures. He had with him carrying cases that were accidentally invented by Nathaniel Ward. Ward used a closed bottle to bury a chrysalis and observe the development of a moth. When he noticed plant growth in the closed environment he figured this would be the perfect way to transport plants and protect them from lack of water, changes in temperature and sea spray during long sea voyages to the home destination. This discovery completely revolutionized the transportation of live plants from far away.
Robert Fortune disguised himself as a Chinese man to get into the forbidden areas around China. He collected and smuggled out many plants that were the result of centuries of China's select breeding and cultivation. He called China the "central flowery land."
These delicate old-fashioned plants emerge in the spring, display their chains of hearts, and too soon the plant dies back till next year.
Children love this plant. The flowers encourage the imagination with creative pretend as they become earrings, heart hair tiaras, dancing ballerinas, lady in the bath play or man in a gondola play.
Many flowers have stories attached to them and bleeding heart is certainly no exception. Here we have two stories from folklore:
The first is the story of Princess Dicentra. This beautiful princess wandered away from her walled garden home and became lost in the darkness of an ancient forest. An evil crone, angry at being disturbed, took out her vengeance on the vulnerable Dicentra. The crone reduced Dicentra's size to a fraction of her normal self and the princess became entrapped in the satiny pink folds of an oddly shaped flower.
The crone told Dicentra that she'll only escape if by chance she is discovered by an innocent youngling. What the crone didn't realize is how attractive these flowers were to any passing child. It took only three days before travelers stopped for water in the forest. A little boy noticed the dancing wand tipped by a pink and white heart, and as predictable with children, he plucked it. When the child started to play with the flower, the princess was freed when he pulled back the pink skirt.
The second story is called "Ann's Story of the Bleeding Heart" by Elma Lang.
This is exactly as the story goes so the full credit goes to Elma Lang.
Ann thought she was the most unhappy girl in the world. Although she had gone to her new school for a whole week, she hadn't made a single friend.
Things might have been different if she hadn't been so frightened that first day. Some of the girls had spoken to her, but her throat had become so tight that she hadn't been able to answer them. Maybe after that the girls has thought she was stuck up or unfriendly. At any rate, they had left it up to her to make the next move.
Ann stopped to pick a bouquet of lilies of the valley and bleeding hearts for her new teacher. Many were growing in the garden of her new home.
As soon as she was in their classroom after the morning bell rang, Ann took the flowers to her teacher.
"My what lovely bleeding hearts!" exclaimed Miss Johnson, smiling at Ann. "Isn't that a sad name for such pretty flowers? Why do you suppose it was given that name?"
"Don't you know the story?" asked Ann in surprise. "My mother told it to me when I was just a little girl."
"Perhaps you can tell the story to the class," suggested Miss Johnson.
Ann looked at the class and felt horrified. Then she thought, I know the story well, and I love it. Of course I should share it.
Both her hands and her knees were shaking as she broke off one of the flowers, but she bravely stood before the class and told her story.
"Once upon a time there lived a beautiful princess. Young men from far and near came to pay her court. But the princess was very vain and would have nothing to do with any of them. A young prince fro the neighboring country fell deeply in love with her. She ignored him like the others, though he tried and tried to win her heart. One day the prince found a pair of pretty pink rabbits at the market. He sent them to the princess thinking 'these will surely melt her heart.'"
Ann carefully broke off the two outside petals of the flower in her hand. She placed them on the teacher's desk. Sure enough they looked like a pair of pink rabbits.
"But the princess went right right on ignoring him," Ann continued with her story.
"Then the prince sent her a pair of beautiful Oriental slippers." From the front and back of the flower, Ann took off the two long petals. One could easily imagine the dainty heels, the slender insteps, and the widened toes. They looked like a pair of real Oriental slippers.
Ann had to wait until the oh's and ah's of the class had quieted down before she could go on.
"Still the princess would have nothing to do with him. The young prince was so heart broken that he took his dagger and drove it into his heart." The remains of the flower in Ann's hand made the outline of a heart with a line down the center. Ann broke out the stamen, which had made the line. It looked like a dagger. She put it through the center of the heart. Ann held her hand so that the class could see the perfect heart pierced by the dagger.
Ann went on with the story. "As soon as the prince was dead, the princess realized that she had really love him. 'As long as I live, my heart shall bleed for my prince.' she wept".
"That" finished Ann, "is the story of the bleeding heart.
"Show me how to do it," said Donna, who sat in the front seat.
"Me too, me too!" cried the other girls.
"Ann may show you at recess," Miss Johnson stated firmly.
My story has made everything all right, Ann thought happily as she went back to her desk. I won't have any trouble making friends now.
For those who love to save their flower collections by pressing them, the bleeding heart is perfect. Picked early in the morning after the dew has dried, tuck between the pages of a thick book and after a few weeks the flower is transformed into a perfect flat, papery little heart.
Information for this post came from "100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names" by Diana Wells and "Sunflower Houses" by Sharon Lovejoy
Below are three wonderful books to spark a child's imagination and love of gardening: