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This graceful, low-growing spring ephemeral spreads by offshoots of corms to form a carpet of blooms in early to mid-spring. Feathery foliage emerges with flowers that look like tiny, upside-down, white pantaloons waving in the breeze. Dutchman’s breeches typically grows 6-10” tall in shady areas of woods, ledges, and stream banks where soils are fertile, moist, and well-drained. It resists moderate frost and is able to emerge early, taking advantage of unobstructed spring sunlight, then fading away as the tree canopy fills in. The whimsical pantaloons with pale yellow at the “waist” droop in rows along leafless stems that arch over masses of deeply cut, parsley-like leaves. The fragrant blooms contain nectar within two long petals that form nectar spurs, or hollow extensions that are joined at the base. Dicentra comes from the Greek words dis, meaning “two” or “apart,” and kentron, which means “spur.” Cucullaria comes from the Latin word cuculus, which means “hood,” and refers to the smaller petals that form a cap over the inner parts of the flower. Other common names include staggerweed and little blue staggers because the toxic plant parts induce drunken staggering in cattle that graze on it.

 

Dutchman’s breeches is in the fumitory subfamily of the poppy family, whose members are easily recognized by their peculiar flowers with two dissimilar pairs of petals. Dutchman’s breeches’ flowers are different than those of its cousin, squirrel corn, which blooms slightly later and is often found alongside dutchman’s breeches. When the flowers are gone, the two plants look quite similar. To differentiate, remember that dutchman’s breeches has greenish-gray leaves, while squirrel corn’s leaves have a silvery, teal-blue color.

 

Native habitats include deciduous and rocky woodlands, gentle slopes and ravines, shaded ledges, and stream banks, and undisturbed sites. Ideal for woodlands, wildflower or native plant gardens, and shady areas. If adding to shady borders, interplant with ferns and other shade-loving perennials that will provide interest once the dutchman’s breeches have gone dormant.

 

Mary Anne Borge, a freelance naturalist, writer, photographer and educator living in New Jersey has given permission to use her photo, and has published a beautiful article contrasting and comparing dutchman's breeches with squirrel corn on her website The Natural Web. You can find her article here.

 

Plant Characteristics:

Reaches 6-12” tall and just as wide.

 

Grows best in full to part spring sunlight and appreciates shade in summer.

 

Performs best in average to fertile, well-drained soils. Tolerates clay soils. Intolerant of wet soils in winter.

 

Blooms March-April with 2-6 pairs of ¾” white flowers that droop from pedicels attached to semi-erect flower stalks. Each flower has 2 outer petals that form the puffy “breeches”and 2 inner, yellow petals that curve outward at the base of the flower. Blooms last 2-3 weeks. The fruit is a slender pod about ¼” long, tapering to a point at both ends. The capsules split apart to release small, kidney-shaped seeds.

 

Basal leaves are grayish green to green and divided into 3 main leaflets that are further divided into 3 secondary leaflets that are cleft into narrow lobes. Long petioles are red or brown.

 

The root system consists of closely packed pink to white, teardrop-shaped tubers.

 

Wildlife Value:

Dutchman's breeches have a symbiotic relationship with a variety of insects to accomplish reproduction. Many species of bees and Lepidoptera visit for nectar and pollen, and ants also play an important role by carrying the seeds and their nutritious appendages back to their nests where the appendages are consumed and the seeds are discarded and allowed to germinate. Spring ephemerals are an important early source of nectar for emerging bumble and other long-tongued bees; greater bee flies; butterflies, including red admirals, cabbage whites and skippers. Honey bees and other short-tongued bees “rob” the honey by creating an opening that bypasses the flower entrance and the pollen-containing stigmas. Most mammals avoid the plant, but voles and other small mammals eat the corms and roots.

 

Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:

The Iroquois used an infusion of the leaves as a liniment.

 

Caution: all parts contain high levels of toxic alkaloids and should not be consumed.

Dutchman’s Breeches, Dicentra cucullaria

$8.00Price
Excluding Sales Tax
Ready for Pickup in Late Spring
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