Plant Collector: Dicentra eximia alba

Dicentra eximia alba - a modest little plant for semi shade areas

Dicentra eximia alba – a modest little plant for semi shade areas

This particular dicentra hails from USA where it is widespread because it is not at all picky about temperatures. We use it as a ground cover in semi shaded conditions. It is fully deciduous so it disappears in autumn, to reappear with renewed vigour each spring. The foliage is technically described as finely cut and divided which means it looks ferny or maybe feathery. The flowers are little heart shaped pouches and feed the bees, particularly the humble bumbles. We have another form where the foliage is glaucous – in other words, blue-grey with the same white flowers, as well as pale pink forms. It is moderately poisonous to stock which is how it comes by its common name in USA of staggerweed, but that is not a problem in a garden situation. It forms rhizomes at or just below the soil level. Combine it with spring bulbs which flower first and as their foliage gets tatty after flowering, the fresh dicentra will mask it.

The pretty Dicentra spectabilis or Bleeding Heart with its dear little pink to red heart flowers hanging all down the stems is from Northern China, Japan and far eastern Russia – all places where it will get a good winter chill. I remember it as a common garden plant from my Dunedin childhood. Over the years, we have bought fine looking plants in full leaf and flower on several occasions but they fail entirely to reappear the second year. It is available in seed so the plan is to order a packet next season and raise a whole lot to experiment with different locations in the hope we can get it established.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

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2 thoughts on “Plant Collector: Dicentra eximia alba

  1. Marge Hurst

    So where is Dicentra eximia available? I, too, have had the spectabilis sadly disappear after the first season. Does the eximia come in other colours, or just white? Glad to know it wasn’t just me, and due to the vagaries of the NZ climate. The long Pennsylvania winters were good not just for sitting in front of the fire looking at garden catalogues, but also for enabling plants like peonies and dicentra, forsythia, lilies of the valley and lilac to grow profusely. On the other hand….

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