Dicentra scandens (see photo at right) is often cited as a "show stopper," due to its profusion of rich yellow hearts which appear in late spring or early summer and keep coming until frost. A native of Nepal and Tibet, this somewhat rare vine deserves a special place in American gardens.

The most popular and floriferous selection, made by writer and horticulturist Allan Armitage, is 'Athens Yellow'. Like all other selections, it prefers moist, rich, well-drained soil. It likes its feet in the shade and its vines in sun to part shade. The ferny foliage is corydalis-like and grey-green. Via tendrils, it vines loosely up a trellis, fence, shrub, or even a small tree. If you provide it with its preferred growing conditions, you will be rewarded with vines up to 20 feet long! It is remarkably hardy, given its native habitat, surviving winters as far north as zone 6. Some plant descriptions claim that it is hardy in zone 5 (my gardening zone) but I can attest to the fact that it isn't! Its southern range is through zone 10, where it requires afternoon shade.

The main reason that D. scandens is hard to find in the nursery trade is its presentation in a nursery pot. It outgrows its pot very quickly, and its delicate stems and leaves are easily injured, causing it to look battered and unhealthy, thus making it difficult to sell. Propagation is usually by rooted cuttings.

Dicentra macrocapnos
Note the reddish tips on the older blooms

D. scandens has a sister, named D. macrocapnos (only recently brought into the horticultural trade) that could pass as its twin. Upon closer examination, you will find that its flowers are a deeper yellow, slightly larger, somewhat more angular in shape, and become tinged with orange-red at the tips as they age. Macrocapnos has lustrous pale green leaves and has the potential to climb even higher than its sister. It forms a bulb underground that can create a huge basal clump up to 36 inches across! Cultural requirements are the same as for scandens, although it is only hardy to zone 7.

D.scandens and D. macrocapnos are both deer-resistant.

Where you can find this great vine

Dicentra scandens

Dicentra scandens 'Athens Yellow'

Dicentra macrocapnos


Dicentra scandens photo by DG member PudgyMudpies
Dicentra macrocapnos by Lazy S's Farm via DG member mystic

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© Larry Rettig 2010