Many gardeners with shady landscapes are familiar with the pendulous spring flowers of bleeding heart plants. However, this is not your favorite woodland plant, Dicentra, in vine form. Unlike the hardy woodland plants that go by the same moniker, bleeding heart vine is a tender tropical plant that resembles the herbaceous perennial bleeding heart in appearance, not hardiness.
Also known as glory bower and bag flower, Clerodendrum thomsoniae, named in honor of the 19th century head of the Calcutta Botanic Garden Thomas Thompson, is a member of the Verbenaceae family. This West African native can reach around three feet in containers but can climb to 15 feet when given a permanent spot in the ground in tropical zones. The vines spread from three to five feet.
The flowers of bleeding heart vine are arresting, with crimson petals emerging from a white base. The common name “bag flower” alludes to the shape of the white petals, which hold a red surprise inside as the inner red petals emerge. The vines are a rich source of nectar, and they will attract butterflies outdoors.
Bleeding heart vine flowers from spring through summer, with the blossom count slowing down as fall approaches. In its native habitat, the vine goes through a dormant period in the winter, and you should replicate this for continuing plant vigor.
Bleeding heart vine demands well-draining soil. The vines are also very thirsty, and you must never allow them to dry out during the active growing season. If your home is dry, an occasional misting will also keep the plant healthy. The vines produce the most blossoms in bright light, so keep the plant in a south-facing window if possible. Gardeners in USDA growing zones 9-11 can grow bleeding heart vine outdoors in a partially sunny area without protection.
Bleeding heart vines climb by twining, and you can help them reach their height potential with a small trellis. The vines also respond well to hanging baskets, where they’ll drape attractively over the sides.
Indoors or in the Garden
Treat this vine as a tender perennial and keep it on display during the growing season of March through October. Find an out-of-the-way spot to allow the plant its dormancy, when it will look a bit too ratty for the kitchen windowsill.
If you grow bleeding heart vine outdoors, consider planting it in the ground or in a container at the base of your mailbox, where it will reach the perfect size to adorn but not overwhelm the mailbox. Give the vine a trellis to cling to, or place a piece of plastic netting over the mailbox for support.
From mid-November to mid-February, keep the plant in a cool room out of direct sunlight and water only when the soil is dry. The vine will lose some leaves, but no matter, for at the end of winter you will prune the vine back to 12 inches. Now you can move the plant to a bright window, and keep the soil evenly moist. Fertilize every two weeks with a balanced fertilizer.
Botrytis blight can infect bleeding heart vines, but you can prevent this by keeping the vine in an area with good air circulation from a fan or a window breeze. If you choose to propagate this vine from cuttings, always use sterile potting soil to deny fungal spores the chance to grow.