One of the dangers of an inquisitive mind, and also one of its greatest pleasures, is the unexpected tangent. The train of thought or subject of interest, that when prodded and examined can lead to wonderfully surprising places. Today's unexpected journey began with a flower.
One of my favorite plants, commonly known as the Bleeding Heart, is a spectacularly beautiful and unusual flowering perennial. The scientific name, Dicentra spectabilis, meaning “two spurs worthy of notice” is aptly chosen. The blooms, though small, are one of the more interesting common flowers, borne in multiples strings of numerous blooms on hanging stalks. These little lovelies are presently in the peak of their blooming season in our garden. I caught one of the plants in a pool of late afternoon sunlight and grabbed a couple of photos with the 180mm macro lens. In the course of processing the images I became curious about the history and origins of these unique flowers and off I went. Here is what I learned.
The plant is native to Eastern Asia, growing from Siberia to Japan. The Chinese name is Hang-pak-monton-wha, or “pink and white flowers of the mountain”. One of the most successful of the Victorian horticulturists was Robert Fortune. Mr. Fortune, a member of the Edinburgh Horticultural Society, left Britain for China in 1842 and, among many other now commonly recognized garden plants, introduced the Bleeding Heart to Britain in 1846 after he discovered the species in the Chinese mandarin gardens. The popular cottage garden flower found its way to America about two decades later.
(click image to enlarge)
Such a popular and well loved flower is bound to have some folklore attached to it, and the Bleeding Heart does not disappoint. It has several different symbolic references attached to it. One is that it represents “undying love”, apropos for a perennial! Another is “hopeless – but not heartless”, which is rather less inspiring. Another bit of lore uses the the flower to divine your lover's true feelings: “if you crush the flower 'bleeding heart' and red blood flows, your love has a heart full of love for you; but if the juice is white, he loves you no more.”
A rather more fanciful and romantic story involves a brokenhearted prince and an arrogant princess. One of the unique characteristics of this story is that it incorporates the various parts of the flower into the story. The proper way to tell the story is to disassemble the mature flower as you go:
The Story of the Bleeding Heart
Once upon a time there lived a beautiful princess. Young men from far and near came to try to win her heart. But the princess was very vain and would have nothing to do with any of them. A young prince from a neighboring country fell deeply in love with hear. She ignored him like the others, though he tried and tried to win her over. One day the prince found a pair of pretty pink rabbits at the market.
(Peel away the two outer petals and you get two pink 'rabbits')
He sent them to the princess thinking,"these will surely melt her heart." But the princess went right on ignoring him. Then the prince sent her a pair of beautiful Oriental slippers.
(the two long petals from front and back of flower split into separate slippers)
Still the princess would have nothing to do with him. The young prince was so heartbroken that he took his dagger and drove it into his heart.
(break off the stamen and pierce the remains of the flower with it)
As soon as the prince was dead, the princess realized that she had really loved him. "As long as I live, my heart shall bleed for my prince," she wept.
(click image to enlarge)
The world is a complex, multi-layered and interconnected place. Even our gardens can take us on a trip through time and space if one applies a little curiosity and wonder. The Bleeding Heart, a flower of the world.