Bleeding Hearts are a welcome guest in most forest garden. It creates a thick and beautiful ground cover, and speaks to ancient symbolism.

Bleeding Hearts (Photo courtesy of Unsplash)

This delightful herbaceous plant belongs to a small genus of heart-shaped plants. Plants in this genus grow flowers and leaves from stems and roots. Dicentra Formosa are an exception as the flowers and finely dissected leaves grow only from the roots. This perennial is known as the western, wild, and Pacific Bleeding Heart.

Commercial Development

Bleeding Hearts have soft pinkish-purple and white heart-shaped flowers. Commercially developed forms can include red and white or pink and lighter pink flowers, chartreuse foliage, and larger plants and blooms. Fragrance was of interest to commercial developers and used in the production of perfumes.


Bleeding Hearts grow in western Canada, south into parts of Central and South America. They are a common native in Oregon.

Bleeding Hearts grow in ‘edge’ areas where there is access to water and dappled sunlight to shade. In some areas, direct sun will damage the blooms and retard plant growth.

Wild Bleeding Hearts grow to be 18-inches tall. Typical height is around 12-inches. Some new introductions can get to be nearly 3-feet tall.

The plant is not drought or salt tolerant. It prefers moist, well-draining soils. Shallow roots are easily damaged. Yet, the wild plant has a high tolerance to fire.


The emotions and strong symbolism surrounding Bleeding Hearts have been capture in song and story. Many people believe that flowers communicate special meanings through their shape and colors.

For some, Bleeding Hearts symbolize sorrow and lost love. For others, it is a symbol of beauty and positive energy. Bloom colors are often associated with positive energy, love, friendship, and warmth at home.

There is a dark side to this beauty: the flowers are poisonous. All parts of the plant are poisonous if ingested. Even so, Bleeding Hearts received the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.

–USDA, National Resources and Conservation Service, Bleeding Hearts (
–Bleeding Heart Flower – Meaning, Symbolism and Colors (
–Wikipedia, Bleeding Heart (

There are about 4,500 species of parasitic plants and the native Indian paintbrush is one of them.

Indian paintbrush is a perennial herb that prefers sandy, well-draining soils. It grows in dry meadows, prairies, and open woods.

Indian paintbrush courtesy of USDA Forest Service

In the spring and early summer, Indian paintbrush are easy to find and recognize with their showy red bracts. Bracts are a type of modified leaf that gives the plant the look of a paint brush dipped in red paint.


Bracts also hide the small greenish tubular flowers which attract a variety of pollinators, especially bees and hummingbirds. Once pollinated, the plant creates a two-chamber seed capsule. When ripe, capsules can contain up to 300 seeds which are scattered via the wind.

Indian paintbrush are especially adapted for hummingbird pollination. Hummingbirds can hover near the plant and extract nectar with their long bills. The lack of a perch discourages non-hovering pollinators.


Indian paintbrush photosynthesize energy like other plants. They are also ‘obligate parasites’ during a portion of their lifecycle (meaning they cannot complete their lifecycle without it). As a parasite, they penetrate the roots of a host, such as perennial grass, and sequester water and nutrients. This combination makes Indian paintbrush a hemiparasite.

There are a variety of other parasitic plants, some of which target food crops (corn, rice, millets, and Sorghum) causing significant economic losses. Some common parasitic plants include mistletoe (a stem parasite), Sandalwood (hemiparasitic), and even some Christmas trees (such as the Western Australian Christmas tree is an obligate root hemiparasite).

Common Uses

Native peoples used this perennial, woody species extensively. Products include: food, beverages, and food preservation, a variety of medicines (for burns, contraception, injuries, wash, etc.), poison infusion, love charm, decoration (hide coloration, celebrations, and wreaths), hummingbird traps, and more. See the Native American Ethnobotany Database for more information at:

–USDA, Forest Service, Indian paintbrush plant of the week (
–Better Homes and Gardens (
–Wikipedia, Indian Paintbrush (

Western hemlock

Western hemlock thrives in humid areas of the Pacific coast. It is commonly found in temperate rain forests, usually within 100 miles of the coast.


This large conifer can grow up to 200 feet tall and 9 feet in diameter. It is also long-lived, with the oldest known hemlock coming in at 1200 years!

In addition to being well known for its gorgeous wood, hemlock is used for a variety of other purposes. Western hemlock tolerates shade and grows abundantly underneath mature trees, where it provides an important source of food for deer and elk. Older trees are prone to rot, which makes them excellent sources of cavities for birds.

Native Americans on the Pacific coast carved hemlock wood into spoons, combs, roasting spits, and other implements. Hemlock bark is rich in a substance useful for tanning hides.


Hemlock is also a source of different kinds of food. In addition to offering edible canbium (the spongy cork interior of the bark), a hemlock forest is the preferred place for chanterelles and other edible fungi to grow. The needles can also be chewed or made into tea.