“Wildflowers are the stuff of my heart!”
― Lady Bird Johnson
As May becomes a riot of color and bloom, with green everywhere, I am reminded of a small, unassuming native wildflower that braves the cold earth to wave its unique flowers in icy wind. Many spring ephemerals would fit this description, but I am talking of a new wildflower that has bloomed a second year in my garden, with one lovely stem….see it above! That’s Dicentra cucullaria, but I love the common name; Dutchman’s breeches.
This lovely plant can be found throughout eastern North America, in rocky moist woods, ravines, along streams, slopes and valleys. They are likely to grow abundantly on forest floors that have been undisturbed. Unfortunately here, my garden was once a forest floor that was cleared to build my house. I wonder how many wildflowers grew here naturally?
Dutchman’s breeches are part of, what was formerly, the Fumitory family (Fumariaceae). Now the Fumitory family is a subfamily of the Poppy family (Papaveraceae).
Dutchman’s breeches is named for the flowers that look like white pantaloons. Dicentra is derived from the Greek for two-spurred, and the Latin word for hood.
This small delicate native plant is from 4-8″ tall, with a rosette of grayish green leaves about 6″ across. The flowers bloom in early spring, here that is late April or early May, and can be found growing in Zones 3 to 7. The flower pairs hang from a long flowering stalk.
This beautiful flower only blooms for a short time once the garden warms. Once summer hits, the foliage yellows and the plant goes dormant.
As I profile this wonderful native plant, I am linking in with [email protected]Clay and Limestone for her Wildflower Wednesday meme, and [email protected]Elephant’s Eye at False Bay for her Dozen for Diana monthly meme. And I am joining forces once again this year with a local native plant nursery, Amanda’s Garden, to buy native plants for my garden. The owner, Ellen Folts, specializes in woodland, prairie and wetland native perennials. Check out their Spring 2016 catalog.
In the right conditions, this plant will spread far and wide. I have finally found success, growing this wildflower, in my small shade garden. Shade to dappled sunlight, and rich, moist, loamy soil are key. And luckily it is not bothered by the frosts of early spring here. But it is intolerant of clay, too dry and too wet conditions.
The flowers are replaced by seed capsules that split into 2 segments when they release their seeds. Then they are spread by ants through a process called myrmecochory. Ants are attracted to the elaiosome, a part of the seed. The ants eat the elaiosome, and discard the seed in their nest debris, where they are protected until they germinate, growing in the rich nest debris.
You can also propagate this plant by division of crowns and tubers in fall or early spring.
Benefits to Wildlife
Dicentra cucullaria is loved by bees for both its nectar and pollen. Early long-tongued bees, such as honeybees, some bumblebees and mason bees, tap into the nectar. Native bumblebees, with a short proboscis, separate the flower petals with their front legs, and scoop out the pollen with their other legs. This pollen gathering helps to pollinate the plant.
Because the foliage is toxic many deer and rabbits will not usually eat the foliage.
Some say this plant is tolerant of clay, but I have not had success getting it started in clay soil.
This plant is perfect for woodland or native shade gardens that get enough moisture in early spring.
Be careful when touching this plant with bare hands as it is toxic and can cause minor skin irritation.
It does not generally have any serious insect or disease problems.
Dutchman’s breeches is not good as a cut flower because it fades quickly when cut.
Folklore and Tales
This plant was used by Native Americans and early settlers to treat syphilis and skin conditions. It was also said to purify the blood.
Dutchman’s breeches contains several alkaloids that can depress the central nervous system even leading to paralysis.
And in some Native American folklore it was thought to be a Love Charm, as it acts like a hallucinogen. After all it is part of the poppy family so that makes perfect sense.
Remember this plant is toxic to humans and animals so be very careful around it.
Do you grow any native wildflowers? What is your favorite early spring wildflower?
In A Vase On Monday
Yes those are tulips you are seeing. But Donna, you don’t grow tulips. Were these a gift? Well of sorts. A gift from nature. I planted Rembrandt tulips years ago, and after the first year, they did not bloom again or were eaten by deer before they could bloom. This year I found these tulips growing, and protected them from deer until they bloomed.
They have reverted back to the original yellow/red tulips used to create the crazy colors of Rembrandt tulips. I originally was just going to put them in a bottle, but found a few small daffs blooming nearby to add to the bottle.
And there were plenty of daffs blooming late with our cold weather. These had a beautiful scent, and reminded of Paperwhites….only these had a more pleasant scent. I am not sure which Narcissus tazetta this is, but it is a keeper.
I am joining in with a few memes this week as I prepare this vase: [email protected]Rambling in the Garden for her wonderful meme, In a Vase on Monday, Today’s Flowers hosted by [email protected]An English Girl Rambles 2016 and [email protected]Lavender Cottage who hosts Mosaic Monday.
Next up on the blog:
Monday I will have an update on my veg garden….lots growing downstairs waiting to be planted and it is slow going outside still.
I am linking in with Michelle for her Nature Notes meme at her blog, Rambling Woods. It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every Monday.
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76 Replies to “Simply The Best Natives- Dutchman’s Breeches”
Interesting post on the dutchman’s breeches. They are utterly charming.
And I smiled about your tulips. I had 2 bright red ones appear in my front border this spring. Gorgeous things. And I’ve lived here 9 years and I know I never planted those. I can’t imagine how they got there, but what a nice surprise…….the deer didn’t eat them!
Have a good week
I bet a squirrel brought you a present with those tulips.
What a lovely surprise for you. The daffodils are lovely too.
It was a great surprise Christina!
An interesting plant and apparently native here in TN – though it seems much more widespread in NY (http://bonap.net/MapGallery/County/Dicentra%20cucullaria.png).
I’ve heard only good things about Dutchman’s breeches, though I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in a garden or in the woods here. Given its ephemeral nature, I guess it’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
I think I would definitely try this if I had any woodland type settings on my property.
Definitely a great plant in all its settings….I would bet if you were in the woods when bloodroot and other first wildflowers are out you might see them.
Nice surprise of tulips!
Made my spring….
Such a cheery vase arrangement this week Donna! What a beautiful tulip. There are many Dutchman’s Breeches growing on our lake property and I dug one up that was growing is what is to be our driveway – thinking I would “save” it. I transplanted it in the Violet Fern Woodland Edge and it looks like it will take. I won’t know for sure until next year. The foliage is extraordinary – beautiful sea foam green and such great texture. The flowers are so dainty and dance in the wind as if on a clothes line. I feel very blessed to have this wild heart in my garden and at the lake! As always, the folklore is so interesting.
Oh, and I have plenty of ants!
Hello, the wildflowers are pretty. I have seen these during my walks on the trails. The tulips is beautiful, lovely arrangements. Happy Monday, enjoy your new week ahead!
Lucky you Eileen to see them on your walks!
What a great post. I saw Dutchman’s Breeches this year for the first time in a great many years. I’m glad you’re having luck with the wild flowers in your garden, I never seem to have much luck, so I just have to depend on finding them in the woods. This plant definitely has one of the more “fun” names out there.
Your arrangements are beautiful!
How nice Stephi you got to these too….and I agree what a fun name it has!
My Dutchman’s breeches have all seeded from my neighbor’s wildflower garden. Most of my tulips disappeared after the first couple of years as well. Fun to have them surprise you.
Lucky you and what a great neighbor to grow these and let them seed.
A terrific post, Donna. I’m not familiar with this wildflower and it won’t grow where I am, but it’s always a treat to learn about something new. Lovely photos, especially that first one. I love your Lady Bird quote at the beginning–my sentiments exactly!!
Glad you enjoyed the wildflower Tina!
Fascinating info about dicentra, Donna – thanks for that. And yes, how VERY exciting for your tulips to reappear (I had a single one appear randomly from a planting made several years ago – most welcome, although it had to be moved to a more sensible place!) and they look lovely simply placed in that bottle. I have a Clematis ‘Lady Bird Johnson’ but I am afarid I don’t know qho she is so I will google her immediately…
Thank you Cathy….Lady Bird is a very important lady here not only because she was First Lady when her husband took over as US President when President Kennedy was assassinated, but her love of wildflowers and native plants led to the formation of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in her home state of Texas. I hope you enjoy reading about this amazing woman.
Lovely flowers. We live in the Austin area and are members of the Lady Bird wildflower center.Spent several hours there recently. Those tulips are beauties!
Oh what I wouldn’t give to visit the LBW Center….
I love your Dicentra, which I know wouldn’t survive a nanosecond in SoCal. The most common wildflowers here, California poppies and lupines, haven’t established well in my garden, although a couple of lupines have shown up here on their own the last 2 years so there’s still hope. Maybe, if we get a lot of rain one year, all those California poppy seeds I’ve sown at intervals will explode into bloom.
Your tulips are spectacular even if they’re not what you originally planted. They look lovely with the addition of the equally cheerful daffodils too.
Perfect wildflowers there especially the poppies…love them. Hope you get enough rain to see more of them.
I’m glad your weather is warming up and flowers blooming, Donna. I love the fragrance of the Tazetta daffodils, but I don’t get enough flowers to fill a vase with them. And your tulips are so pretty with the red streaks. Voles get all mine except the little species tulips. Your Dutchman’s Breeches are so cute, I enjoyed all your information. We have a little native Dicentra formosa, it has kept growing on the north side of my house by the sidewalk, so I guess it likes it there. I’ve seen it growing on banks near here. That’s interesting about the ants, I would appreciate them if they spread my little wild Dicentra around.
What a wonderful wildflower your Dicentra formosa….native to the Pacific coast…and similar to another native dicentra I have growing here.
I had no idea what flower would lurk behind Dutchmen’s Breeches – an unusual, and fitting name, for a delightful flower!
One of the most fun flowers in look and name Diana!
I love Dutchman’s Breeches and have a small group at the wood’s edge. I wish they would spread more, but I haven’t had much luck there.
Your last vase of narcissi might be ‘Geranium’ – they are quite fragrant and bloom around this time.
I hope yours and mine spread more Eliza….I think you might be right with the name of the daffs….they look like ‘Geranium’.
I find with most spring ephemerals amending clay soil with lots of leaf mold is key. (But of course then it’s not really clay soil, now is it?) At my old house, I wanted to grow woodland native plants on the north side. I was pretty sure it was moist enough. For three years I gathered leaves in the fall and dumped them there. The fourth year I started planting native ephemerals there and they were quite happy.
Exactly Kathy….I am in the process, after 10 yrs, of adding more amendment to my wildflower garden.
That’s a great flower and interesting facts about it!
Glad you think it is great too!
Spring at last in your garden!Enjoy the season, Donna!
Funny how spring was so cold and with a month left, it will turn to summer fast.
Interesting information about the Dicentra. Odd that it was used for skin complaints as it causes skin irritation. It is such a pretty flower and it gets to keep its name whilst we now have to call Dicentra spectabilis, Lamprocapnos.
I love your Narcissus.
I thought the same…a contradiction in use and symptoms. Several native Dicentra here in the US are still named dicentra. Not sure why.
Lovely to see your dicentra, Donna, and to learn a little more about it. I had one in a pot, apparently killed by last summer’s terrible heat. Must take more care. Your tulips really brightened my day. Thank you!
It actually does disappear so maybe it will come back Cathy.
Lots of good information about the Dutchman’s Breeches. I guess I won’t be seeking them out since I am very sensitive to certain plants especially poison ivy.
That’s too bad Sue….I use gloves when I plant just in case, but these are usually near woodlands and I have never had any issues around them.
Donna, I’ve often heard mention of ‘Dutchman’s breeches’ but never saw a photo or knew what plant it was, so thanks now I know, the flowers are sweet like fairy breeches hanging up to dry, glad for you that you have finally found a place it is happy in, it’s strange but we can think if a plant is native to where our garden is then it should grow but that isn’t so as there are so many variables, interesting info about the plant, Frances
I agree Frances…they look like fairy breeches hanging up to dry.
This is such an interesting post on your native Dutchman’s breeches. I have several white Dicentra spectabilis around our small pond, but in comparison yours is so delicate and graceful and that touch of yellow is so classy.
I agree these dicentra are just adorable with that spot of yellow.
Oh, I love it when new wilds make their way into our lives. Thank you for all of the images and information on the Dutchman’s Breeches. Always learning something new here…gratitude.
And gratitude for your support and love!
I will be expanding my woodland plants I hope…this is beautiful…
Definitely try a few of these Michelle.
I have a few Dicentra in my garden too. I like your bright, hot colors of tulips. They really welcome in Spring.
I’ve had success transplanting a few wildflowers from our woods to the garden, while several others have found their way there on their own. The background information you provide is fascinating.
Those are the best wildflowers…those that come to you on their own!
Such surprises are what makes gardening so much fun! I like the colours in those tulips, and the second vase is very pretty too. The way you have displayed the Narcissi tall and upright in that vase makes them look quite majestic!
They really make such a bold statement in the garden, I felt they needed a special vase for their long stems….glad you liked their majestic look Cathy!
Hi Donna! I do love Dicentra! Several years ago, our friend gave me several clumps of the wild plant from his farm, and now, it’s colonizing nicely on the outskirts of my garden. I love both, foliage and flowers.
How very special Tatyana to have wild dicentra colonizing in your garden!
I’ve always admired this little plant and they do look so lovely in spring, especially in a natural setting. Thank you for sharing!
I agree Lee…any of the natives in their natural settings are especially wonderful!
[email protected], I am pleased with the tulip too…very dramatic colors.
Dutchman’s Breeches is a really nice spring flower. So tiny and delicate. I have a little patch of it.
How nice Jason that you can enjoy this flower too!
I love the name Dutchman’s breeches, that’s a new one on me. I grow the cultivated forms of dicentra and really love the way they shoot up and flower so dramatically and then disappear. The colours of your native form are really beautiful.
I also grow the cultivated dicentra too and actually another lovely dicentra I will profile soon too….what stunning plants all.
Thank you for sharing this super post with Today’s Flowers Donna. The Dutchman’s Breeches are a wonderful wildflower. They grow in profusion near us and I enjoy seeing them. Lovely arrangements of flowers too. Happy weekend to you.
Thanks Denise…..lucky you too see them growing near you!
What a beautiful and delicate wildflower! Most of my favorite flowers are some variety of wildflowers or what most people consider weeds. Most of them grow in the ditches along the road! In a couple of years when we move to the country, it is my dream to have a prairie garden in the front meadow 🙂
That sounds lovely Debby…I have been focusing on native plants in my garden which grow on the side of the road and I have my meadow which is delightful…
Ah, yes, Dutchman’s Breeches. They’re among those special spring plants that seem so magical when the appear out of the cold earth! They’re plentiful at the Arboretum, and I think i might have some new volunteers in my woodland–perhaps they were growing in someone else’s nearby garden or woodland and found their way to my place. They’re so graceful.
Beth what a delightful volunteer to have pop up!
These are adorable little woodland plants, just the type of plant I love. My favorite early spring woodland plant is probably hepatica, though its common name is liverwort, not nearly as cute as Dutchman’s Breeches!
I have hepatica too and it is hard to establish as well…but such adorable little flowers on fuzzy stems….great foliage too.
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