“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 Gail@Clay and Limestone for her Wildflower Wednesday meme, and Diana@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.
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: Cathy@Rambling in the Garden for her wonderful meme, In a Vase on Monday, Today’s Flowers hosted by Denise@An English Girl Rambles 2016 and Judith@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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