So last night I got obsessed with trying to find folk stories about bleeding hearts, specifically my favorite, Dicentra Spectabalis, which is the "old-fashioned" variety that many of us remember from our parents' and grandparents' gardens. I've discovered that my "Bleeding Heart" is also known as "Lady in the Bath", "Lady's Locket", "Lyre Flower" and "Venus' Car". Native to Korea, China and Siberia, it was imported to Europe from China by Englishman Robert Fortune in 1846, after the Treaty of Nanking in 1842 opened up freer trade relations between Britain and China.
But What About the Stories?
I've told the story of "Princess Dicentra in the Bleeding Heart" from Sunflower Houses, by Sharon Lovejoy to Brook and Alice for so many years that I'm sure they can tell it themselves by now. I don't know if it's from folklore or if it's an original tale. In the story, a beautiful princess named Dicentra is imprisoned in a flower by an evil witch until a child, attracted by the beauty of the flower, sets her free. You can read a bit more in this article.
Here is perhaps the darker folkloric parent of the Princess Dicentra story:
"A long time ago there lived a beautiful princess named Dicentra. The prince in the neighboring country just knew he had to marry her. His mother the queen was very jealous, though, because Dicentra was so beautiful. On the day of the wedding, the queen turned Princess Dicentra into a flower so that she could never marry the prince. To this day, Princess Dicentra wears her wedding gown on the day she was supposed to marry. If you very carefully take the bleeding heart petals and pull them back as far as possible, then use some imagination, you'll see a Cinderella-type dress shape."
(posted in 2005 at NWHikers.net by jenjen - whose grandmother had a great garden full of nooks and crannies and used to tell lots of flower lore.)
If you don't have any blossoms handy to play with, it may be hard to visualize just how to use the flower parts to tell the story. But just the other day, Beth at Acorn Pies shared some nice flower photographs, including a great closeup of the Princess Dicentra.
I found another princess story that many people have heard. It's nice and gloomy, featuring both unrequited love and suicide. At first I wondered if - like the plant - it from Asia, but now I'm thinking that maybe it's just a Victorian story that includes the "Chinese slippers" as a nod to the flower's Asian origins. Heather presents a version with photographs of all the flower parts that you use in the telling. Cool that she uses the white "alba" variety. This is also the only other spot where anyone else has mentioned the flower's resemblance to a turtle (maybe I need to search the Spanish Internet?)
Here is a 7th-grade-student version of the story and here "Ann's Story of the Bleeding Heart" by Elma Lang, a modern story-within-a-story version posted in a gardening forum (gardeners talk about this stuff a lot!)
Last of all, I found an old Victorian weeper, The Legend of the Bleeding-Heart, by Annie Fellows Johnston. First published in 1907, there are lots of versions posted online. The one at Project Gutenberg is in an easy-to-read format, but the book's original pages have an interesting layout, so try this version if you have the patience. There's also a reprint available for people who are in a shopping mood.
Bleeding Heart Art
I drew a bleeding heart in 2005. I kinda like it.
I would someday love to have an antiquarian botanical print like this.
I also love these modern Art Nouveau-ish pieces by Jamie McCanless.
Someday I hope to gaze upon the fantastic Georgia O'Keefe painting that I've seen reproduced in books (I just gotta find out where it lives and see if I can go there.)
The three little Dicentra people in bonnets sitting on the branch above are from a vintage card in an article at HubPages.
Given people's fascination with this flower, it's no wonder that I found Dicentra postage stamps from different corners of the world (you've already seen the one from Korea above.)
Here's a cool book that is on my gardening wish list now. When I found it I became so excited that I started to have palpitations. Be still my heart!