Sometimes a plant can be so common in your field of view that it’s easy to miss its significance to ecosystems. It can be so much a part of the landscape and so self-sustaining that it can be forgotten in favour of all the rare and threatened plants and those things that are hard to grow; and so it is with your common, run- of-the-mill Homalanthus populifolius!

Homalanthus populifolius (previously called Homalanthus nutans or Omalanthus populifolius) has had a few name changes over the last few decades (just to keep us on our toes) and is a member of the Euphorbiaceae family, a very large Family of plants spread across the globe. It is dioecious – having separate male and female plants.

fruit and red heart shapped leaf
Bleeding Heart leaves and a flower spike (header), fruit (left), and a distinctive red heart-shaped leaf (right).

This species is one of those ridiculously fast growing plants that kicks starts ecosystem change by colonising open ground, whether that be an opening in the forest, along roadsides, disturbed edges, and at our place just about anywhere and everywhere. Favoured germination conditions are open ground with high light levels and reasonable moisture holding capacity in the soil. From seedling to maturity and fruiting could be as little as 18-24 months. In open conditions they develop into small trees up to 5-7 metres, but I have seen a few spectacular specimens topping 10 metres in lowland rainforest.

As for kick starting ecosystem change, within 24 months you can have a deep leaf litter providing shelter and habitat for macro-invertebrates and all those critters that eat them. It is a tree that is often as wide as tall, providing shade and humidity for secondary rainforest plants to recruit. The fruit of Homalanthus populifolius is highly sort after by birds, particularly the Brown Cuckoo Dove that readily spreads seed.

I love Homalanthus, it’s hard to imagine a rainforest planting being successful without them. They are our ultimate rainforest pioneer species and well worth planting – that is if they aren’t popping up by themselves!

Spencer Shaw Land for Wildlife member Owner, Brush Turkey Enterprises Reesville, Sunshine Coast

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21 responses on “Flora Profile: Bleeding Heart

  1. I am delighted to find this tree in my garden exactly as you describe. Self sown, has grown 1.2 m in a year and it’s fruit will I hop e attract birds. How do I know whether it’s flowers are male or female and will it’s seeds self sow if they drop around it? But another post says in can grow as wide as tall which can be 8 m. So perhaps it is too close to my house? I am in Coffs Harbour. Thank you.

    1. Hi Christine. Thanks for your comments. Doing a quick Google search it is tricky to find photos of the male and female flowers. Basically, the female flowers will form into nice green fruits – the male plants obviously wont have fruit. If you are worried about it near your house, you can always prune back this plant – they are very hardy and should survive annual pruning.

  2. Thank you for the article.
    I found one in a semi shaded area in my garden in Victoria but wondering if it would survive a transplant as it’s right in front of my mail box. What are the most suitable light aspects now it’s germinated?

    1. Hi Elliott. Bleeding Hearts are pretty tough as they are a pioneer species, which often germinate after disturbance. They will grow in semi-shade and full sun. They might struggle a bit in full shade. Cheers!

  3. Hi there Deborah, I have had one gifted to me several years ago and is doing so great in a pot. It stands about 1.5 m tall and female as it has fruited several times. I keep it in a sheltered position and am moving house at the end of the year. I am wanting to pop it out into a front yard in the ground in full sun. I am wondering how this will cope with frost. We are in Victoria. Thanks Debbie Hill.

  4. Hi Deborah,

    I have a few bleeding hearts, amazed at their growth the largest would be about 2.5m. planted them on May 2020, as well as other rainforest species the tallest is the Brown Kurrajong. I noticed a gap and am wondering but imy question has been answered already in your article and comments, so a semi shaded site with mostly morning sun should be fine as i got a gap to fill, with another bleeding heart. Love to see more of them in nurseries and less exotics. Cheers Sam

  5. Hi Deborah,

    I’m in WA and something is taking massive chuncks out of the leaves leaving the branches bare what can I do ?

    1. Hi Sophie. It is probably a native moth or beetle larvae eating your plant. Don’t do anything. It will grow back.

  6. I have a few of these, some self seeded and some planted. Some trees now have all their levees covered in irregular brown splodges, decaying into holes. It looks more like a disease than an insect, but that’s a guess! Any ideas? , thanks

  7. Hi,

    I would like to try for a mass planting of Bleeding Heart on the Northern Beaches, Sydney.

    I see it growing around the place by accident largely. I love what I’m hearing about it attracting birdlife.

    How do I go about propagating? Can I use cuttings? Do I need to get the seeds?

    I’m an absolute beginner at gardening, but have had some success with growing other plants from cuttings by putting in water then transferring to soil.

    many thanks, Emily.

    1. Hi Emily. We always encourage people to grow plants from seeds for genetic diversity. Or just buy a couple from a local native plant nursery and then you can collect the seed next year. Goodluck.

  8. Do lorikeets and white cockatoos like the fruit of the bleeding heart? We also have possums.

    We are in the Avalon/ Whale Beach area.

  9. Any comments on whether the roots of this tree be problematic for the pipes of a near 100yr house already struggling against roots of a giant camphor laurel tree?

    I have a sunny patch in mind but want to save both the heart tree and the pipes from doom!

  10. Hi.
    I hear they are irritating to touch the leaves and the plant and poison if invested in any form. I have young children and a dog, I’m thinking to dig it out to destroy before it destroys us. Free pick up..for anyone keen to dig up the root system.
    Am I right to be this grew itself 1.2 mts tall now.
    PS; we also live in a high fruit bat area so I don’t want bats bats eat the fruit?

  11. Hi there,

    I have a 4-5m tall bleeding heart in my back courtyard in Melbourne – beautiful! Is anything known about the berries in terms of human consumption? They don’t look particularly appetising but can’t find any info.



  12. Hi Deborah. I’m thinking about using Bleeding heart as a screen from my house and the road. Do you think it would work well as a hedge/screen roughly 50 metres long? It will have full sun. Thanks Adam

    1. Hi Adam. Bleeding Heart are fast growers, but they do not have dense foliage and they are only a pioneer (short-lived) plants that performs the role of stablising a site until more long-lived, slow-growing plant species become established. They will certainly provide a quick screen, as would wattles (Acacias) and other pioneers.

  13. Are bleeding heart trees deciduous. Mine in tropical north Qld on edge of rainforest and getting broken stains in their leaves and then loosing the leaves ( April 23) . And the remaining stems are withering. ???
    Is their something wrong?
    4 months ago they were insanely healthy

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