Lamprocapnos spectabilis

Previously known as Dicentra spectabilis, Lamprocapnos spectabilis is a longstanding garden favourite. Even before it’s introduction to Europe in the early nineteenth century, it has been grown as a garden plant in China and Japan for many years, quite possibly centuries. Despite being a popular and widely grown plant throughout the temperate world, in it’s native habitat it is considered quite rare. This native habitat is in the damp mountainous woodland of the very far east: Heilongjiang Province in China, Siberia and North Korea. It might be rare in North Korea by choice, but this is purely speculative on my part.

Dicentra Lamprocapnos spectabilis

A Lampro-what?

Name changes can be the scourge of the humble gardener – who thought it was a good idea to change Sedum spectabile to Hylotelephium spectabile? Fools! I suspect the name change from Dicentra spectabilis to Lamprocapnos spectabilis resulted in similar reactions from many people; I’m all in favour of it because it makes me sound clever. The name change reflects a new understanding of the evolution of the Fumariaceae family. Lamprocapnos represents a distinct evolutionary lineage which is quite distinct from that of the Dicentra genus. In fact it is one of the oldest genera in the family, in evolutionary terms. This makes it quite interesting when it comes to cultivars: it has been a stable entity with very little variation, for such a long time that it offers scant genetic diversity. The first break from this was the pure white flowered ‘Alba’ which appeared in the mid twentieth century. More recently there has been a sudden proliferation of cultivars: ‘Gold Heart’ in 1997, ‘Valentine’ in 2005, ‘White Gold’ in 2010 and ‘Cupid’ in 2012.

Fighting the machine

The all pervasive influence of intellectual property law

Unfortunately, the more recent cultivars are plagued by the blight that is Plant Breeder’s Rights (PBR). This is essentially a patent or copyright on a plant which prevents the propagation (for profit) of the plant without paying a fee to the rights holder. Much like patents and copyrights, it was dreamt up to protect the labours of small scale plant breeders, but is generally used as a tool by larger companies to stifle competitor’s innovation and to increase their bank balances.

‘Gold Heart’ has an interesting story, and is possibly a good example of where PBR is actually doing what it was designed to do. Nori Pope of Hapsden House, Somerset, found a golden leaved shoot on a plant in 1993. He grafted this shoot onto another plant and removed all the green shoots until he was left with a purely golden leaved plant. The plant was then released for sale in 1997. In this particular case, the plant came about through a fair amount of ingenuity and graft (both literal and figurative), and it seems fair for this effort to be rewarded. Other newer cultivars of Lamprocapnos spectabilis seem to have come from chance seedlings. Why this should allow anyone to own the rights to the production of these plants is beyond me. That’s enough moaning for now!

Growing from seed

In terms of my own growing of these plants, the abundance of new cultivars makes for interesting growing. I grow all of my varieties mixed up in a single bed; under the shade of next door’s oak tree, in thick leaf mould. With most of the new cultivars under the protection of PBR, I can’t propagate the plants by division if I intend to sell them in the near future. My understanding is that propagation by seed is allowed, and it makes things more engrossing too. Here is a run down of the various cultivars and their seedlings, along with a few thoughts. All the pictures were taken last weekend (10th/11th April 2021).

Lamprocapnos spectabilis

  • This is the plant people are most familiar with: reddish stems, mid-green leaves and pink pendulous flowers

Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Alba’

  • ‘Alba’ has lighter colouring throughout the whole plant; the stems and leaves are light green and the flowers are white
  • Like seemingly all Lamprocapnos, it is remarkably uniform from seed: the seedlings all have their parent’s pale green colour
  • The seedlings shown above are scattered around the spot where one of the parent plants has failed to show. Either it seeded heavily before it’s demise; the presence of the parent plant inhibits germination; or it’s just a coincidence!

Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Valentine’

  • You can see that ‘Valentine’ has much darker colouring. The flowers themselves are a rich red colour, rather than the pink of the species, and the stems and leaves are imbued with the same darker colouring.
  • You can see the seedling shows the same red colour on it’s stems
  • It seems to me that amongst the seedlings, there are a number of plants with intermediate colouring between ‘Valentine’ and the species.
  • Overall, I find it a more vigorous cultivar than any of the others.

Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’

  • ‘Gold Heart’ has never been a strong grower for me, and this year it doesn’t seem to have come through the winter.
  • I’m quite surprised that it sets viable seeds, and even more surprised that they show the parent’s colouring: pale leaves and red stems.

Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘White Gold’

  • This was new to me last year, but again didn’t come through the winter. I have managed to get a couple on order for later this year; hopefully I’ll be more successful.
  • It has white flowers and, unlike ‘Alba’, has gold/yellow leaves rather than pale green.

Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Cupid’

Lamprocapnos spectabilis cupid
  • The newest cultivar on the scene. It has pale pink flowers, and the same foliage colouring as the species
  • So far, it looks to be growing very well

Phew, that’s the lot! As well as being lovely plants to look at, they’re an interesting bunch. The recent increase in new cultivars offers a lot of potential. I’m not breeding them with any particular rigour, just growing them in close proximity to each other, letting the bees do their good work, and closely observing the results. Rest assured, if I do come across any new varieties, they’ll be freely available to all! Thanks for reading.

2 thoughts on “Lamprocapnos spectabilis”

  1. Will you be able to sell seed without the special license? My white one is looking a little lack lustre this year but I have seedlings around, hope it is not dying. What do you think?

    1. As I understand it, selling seed is okay. I think they are all struggling a bit with the weather – firstly the lack of water, secondly the cold temperatures. I’m sure they’ll catch up once we have some warmer weather and a spot of rain!

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