Valentine’s Day Message from the Forest

Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) flowers were trying to bloom more than two weeks ago – January was ridiculously warm – and NOW, on Valentine’s Day, we are (literally) digging out after the Snowpocalypse. The Bleeding Heart (Dicentra formosa) is patiently waiting for hints of spring – it may be a while! Meanwhile, I hereby declare it the Tadpole Haven Valentine’s Day Poster Plant!

Bleeding Heart (Dicentra formosa)

There are several garden perennials with heart-shaped flowers commonly called Bleeding Heart. The blossoms generally range from red to pink. Our native Bleeding Heart (Dicentra formosa) flowers are light to dark pink, sometimes white. The ferny-textured foliage can have a slightly bluish tinge, They seed themselves fairly easily and spread via rhizomes to form an attractive deciduous groundcover 1-2 feet tall. They thrive in bright, moist to fairly dry shade. In very dry conditions, in the hottest part of summer, they tend to go dormant and die back, but revive in September before going into winter dormancy.


Historically, the term “bleeding heart” referred to Christ-like compassion and empathy. The wounded heart of Jesus Christ – the Sacred Heart – has been a common Christian symbol since the 1600s.* In the 1930s, an American columnist, Westbrook Pegler, coined the derogatory term “bleeding heart” to refer to those who supported a bill in Congress that aimed to more strongly punish lynching (!).**

That epithet (usually “bleeding heart liberal”) became commonly used in the 1960s to imply unrealistic, excessive—perhaps even hypocritical—sympathy (but many accused of being in that category happily accept the insult as an honorable title—so there!).

One area in which liberals are accused of unrealistic emotional overreaching is caring for the environment. Those accusations tend to be rooted in fear that gains for environmental protection or restoration will add up to losses for humans. But cooperation and mutuality are the answer; humans are not separate from nature.

We can look to nature for guidance; forests and gardens demonstrate mutuality in the way their various elements (plants, mycorrhizal fungi, soil nutrients, invertebrates, birds, amphibians) interact. Certain plants are natural companions: Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and Bleeding Heart, Bleeding Heart and Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum), Star-Flowered False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum stellata) and Bleeding Heart, Bleeding Heart and Inside-out Flower (Vancouveria hexandra), Foamflower (Tiarella trifoliata) and Bleeding Heart…

Wild woodlands and cultivated yards also make good settings for fostering mutuality between humans with differing needs and concerns. Getting out in nature is therapeutic for fostering good relationships. Work in the garden, go for a hike. Together.

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