Pacific Bleeding Heart - Dicentra formosa

pacific bleeding hearts botany with brit

     The flowers in the Fumitory family are quite distinctive. The two outer pink petals of Dicentra formosa with their spur look like the name suggests - a bleeding heart. Even cooler is a relative of this plant: Dicentra uniflora, common name Steer's head. The petals really do look like a bovine noggin complete with curved horns. Another relative, Dicentra cucullaria, is commonly called Dutchman's breeches, and they do indeed look like poofy whiteish/pink upside-down pants. I cannot confirm for you if this is indeed the fashion favored by Dutchmen. 

    The leaves of Bleeding Heart grow on a separate stem from the flowers and are a fern-like delicate blue-green. The entire plant is toxic in large quantity, and it contains narcotic alkaloids that have been used in treating nervous system disorders. Some species of the Fumariaceae family have been used in developing treatments for Parkinson's Disease.

    The most fascinating thing about Bleeding Heart to me is the way this plant cooperates with... or is it manipulates?.. ants. The inch-long narrow seed pods contain a line of black seeds with a globule of fat on them called an elaiosome. This little fat ball is appealing to the ants who carry these seeds back to their hill, dispersing the seeds that will take root next year. Are the ants planting the plants? Are the plants growing the ants for their own purposes? This gets you to wondering about the larger world of cultivated crops in general. We think we're growing plants for food, but are they really growing us to ensure that they have minions to propagate their genetics? And how do those little ants feel when a seemingly innocuous seed erupts into a full blown bleeding heart plant right in the middle of their nursery? If ant's watched horror movies maybe this would be in it.