Pacific bleeding heart plants are found all over the BC coast as well as all of BC’s coniferous forests. It is a delicate, pretty, and short plant. It is also known as the western bleeding heart. Its heart-shaped flowers give it its name.
This beautiful plant has small, heart-shaped flowers growing in small groups on top of a long and thin stalk. The dainty much divided, and fern-like leaves grow straight out of the ground on long and thin stalks. The leaves often make a green covering of growth over the forest floor. Bleeding hearts grow from a fragile rhizome that grows very near to the surface of the soil. After pollination, the flowers produce long, pea-like seed pods.
The Bleeding Heart plant has a symbiotic relationship with ants in the island’s forests. The seeds it produces have small white appendages on them. These white parts on the seeds attract ants. The white parts are oily, and the ants get a vast amount of nutrients and vitamins from this.
The ants pick them up and carry them back to their nests where they consume the white part of the attached to the seed, they then dispose of the rest on their refuse piles. The discarded seeds germinate where they fall.
As with so many plants on the BC coast, this species also has medicinal value. You can make a root tincture or a hot compress to help with pain relief, and it can be applied externally to bruises and sprains. Internally a tincture of bleeding heart can also help calm frazzled nerves especially after a frightening experience such as an accident or other trauma. The roots of this plant are generally gathered in summer and fall, up to the time when the leaves start to turn. The foliage is best collected after the seedpods are matured and can be sown to help spread the plant.
Though this plant is common here, it should still be harvested carefully so that we always have them in our forests. So, next time you are walking through our Islands’ rain forests, look down low and see if you can spot this small beauty.