Dicentra cucullaria is a delightful spring wildflower of woodlands as both the flowers and foliage are attractive. Dutchman's Breeches is one of the earliest woodland wildflowers to bloom, often with its first cousin, Dicentra canadensis (Squirrel Corn). Squirrel Corn sometimes blooms a little later than Dutchman's Breeches. The nectar spurs of Squirrel Corn are shorter and more rounded than those of Dutchman's Breeches, and its white flowers are fragrant. It also has a root system that produces small edible tubers. Within the Fumitory family, Dicentra spp. differ from Corydalis spp. by the structure of their flowers – the former have flowers with 2 nectar spurs, while the latter have flowers with a single nectar spur.
The blossoms resemble upside down breeches. To further that imaginative interpretation, each of between two and six paired blossoms hang from a drooping raceme, which looks much like clothes on a clothesline. The plant itself is less than a foot tall, including flower stems. Leaves are three-lobed and are deeply and finely cut producing a delicate, frilly appearance. Dutchman’s breeches are most often found in dappled sunlight and flower in early spring and prefer loamy and fertile woodland soils.
The seeds have an eliaosome, a fleshy, oily protuberance, that act as a lure for ants. Ants carry the seeds to their nest or some other location, chew off and eat the eliaosome. The seed is then discarded to germinate.
After the fruits set, the underground bulb goes into dormancy until fall. In autumn, the bulbs produce sugar from stored starches and produce underground flower and leaf buds are produced. These buds then become dormant until spring. When the ground warms in the spring, the plant once again becomes active and quickly shoots up leaves and flower stalks to take advantage of the sunlight streaming through the still bare branches of spring woodlands.
April and early May bloom time.
Because of the flower’s unusual shape, the best pollinators are long-tongued bees, such as bumblebees and several of our native bees. Butterflies are not effective pollinators of Dutchman's Breeches.
Dutchman's breeches are only found in woodlands that have deep organic matter, and a history of not being disturbed by grazing or plowing.
Transplant from pots with a light hand or wait until they go dormant as they are easily bruised.
Adapted From: Mississippi Native Plant Society