Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wildflower Wednesday - Dutchman's Breeches

Last weekend K, my new granddaughter, and I visited Mom and her Garden Buddy. We got to enjoy their beautiful woods, wonderful company, introduce them to their 10-week-old great-granddaughter, and attend a wild foods and medicinal plants seminar.

While there, several wildflowers in Mom's woods called to me. Among them was Dutchman's breeches (Dicentra cucullaria,) an old-fashioned bleeding hearts relative. Dutchman's breeches is a native plant I've long admired in the woods and occasionally in cultivated shade gardens. There is a large colony of them blooming at the foot of Mom's driveway. Since they were in such plentiful supply, I dug a few to add to our shade garden.

According to Wikipedia, this delicate, pretty spring ephemeral was a medicinal plant used by Native Americans and early settlers for syphilis, skin conditions and as a blood purifier. Now, it's considered toxic, containing alkaloids that may have detrimental effects on the brain and heart. The seeds of Dutchman's breeches are spread by ants, in a process called myrmecochory.

Mobot says Dutchman's breeches typically occurs on forest floors, rocky woods, slopes, ledges, valleys, ravines and along streams, that it prefers rich, moist, humusy soils in part shade, and is intolerant of wet soils in winter. While our shade garden soil is rich, humusy, and well-draining, it's also dry in summer thanks to its tangle of maple roots. These plants tend to go dormant earlier in dry soil than in moist. Since I've seen this plant naturalize in other dry shade gardens, I'm hopeful it will be happy here.

Gratuitous shot of Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis,) another wildflower in our garden. These were either trampled by critters or blown down by wind. Wilting, I cut these blooms to come indoors where they quickly recovered and are now gracing our kitchen window.

To see more spring wildflowers, please visit Gail at Clay and Limestone, host of Wildflower Wednesday on the fourth Wednesday of each month.


  1. Linda girl you have made me *SMILE* big time with this post ! I have admired these little beauties for some time and ordered two of them from Henry Fields for my shade garden .. I am very excited about having more native/natural occuring plants in the shade garden : )
    I also have the Canadenses columbine in the same area and it is a perfect little jewel as well !
    Thank you for a delightful post girl : )

  2. Anonymous6:04 AM

    What a joyful visit that must have been, Linda, wildflowers and great grand daughters! I have planted this little breeches gem a couple of times without success, but the expanded shade and higher rainfall might allow it to get going here. Worth another try, it is too sweet, as is the newest Garden Girl. :-)

  3. Oh,you are really making me miss my old old house. I had Dutchmans Breeches and Coumbine Canadensis. What a beautiful woodland garden!


  4. One of my favorite of the early ephemerals~I found it growing here and it has made itself at home! The little corms are incredible. Thank goodness for those ants, because it's moved around a bit! I am glad you joined WW...Will you create a natural lawn? gail

  5. A lovely wildflower, Linda! I've seen these before in catalogs, but your photo really captures it in bloom. My shade garden tends to be rather dry, too, so I don't know if I'd have any luck planting them here. I hope yours do well in their new home. Beautiful columbine blooms!

  6. I love your Dutchman's breeches!!! It is very like the white bleeding heart. I will try to find one for my wildflower garden. Wild flowers are funny. If they like a spot they will colonize and thrive for years. If not, they disappear in one season.

  7. Glad I made you smile Joy! I hope those Dutchman's breeches thrive in your garden.

    It was a wonderful, whirlwind weekend Frances. Our new little girl was an awesome traveling companion - such a good baby.

    I sure hope the Dutchman's breeches like it here, and hope you get another chance to see them happy in your garden.

    I miss having a sun garden Eileen! Still, I'm learning to make the best of the shade garden. It's been a slow process, but the last couple of years have been very encouraging. Thank you!

    Good morning Gail! I hope it makes itself at home here too, and moves around.

    The Lawn Man handles the lawn, and he likes it lush, green, and free of of anything except grass, so I'll enjoy others' naturalized lawns where I find them.

    They're so cute Rose! We'll see what happens to them next spring. I'm hoping.

    I'm looking forward to seeing some of the other kinds of columbines here start blooming too.

    Aren't they adorable Marnie - you can definitely tell they're bleeding hearts relatives. I hope they decide to stick around.

  8. I love Dutchman's breeches! I hope your passalongs thrive beautifully!

  9. Linda, it has been a long time since I have seen these in the wilds. When very small, my Mom would take us along mushroom hunting next to a river. I remember seeing these and thought how beautiful they were and what an odd name for them. Of course the woods where we went were full of wildflowers at mushroom time and it was hard to chose just which one was the prettiest. :)

  10. Thank you Rose - I hope so too! They're the sweetest little things.

    Beckie, I haven't been to Mom's before when they were blooming. This was a great time for exploring her woods and bringing home a few more spring-blooming natives. I only wish I'd had more time!

  11. They are both such beautiful wildflowers. I'd love to see if Dutchman's Breeches would grow in my dry shade, I love the shape of the flowers.

  12. Wild plants are special, because they don't normally bother with pests and they cheer everybody up with their beautiful surprises... cute little flowers.


  13. Catherine, the more wildflowers I grow here, the more I appreciate their beauty, and their value to pollinators and other wildlife. (I just wish the rabbits would quit eating my stuff!

    Bangchik, it's wonderful to see so many gardeners planting more wildflowers. I'm discovering more and more that are happy in our dry shade, and I'm happy to add them to our garden. I appreciate the volunteer seedlings too, and enjoy sharing them with other gardeners.

  14. No matter how hard you try to make foreign, exotic species look beautiful in your garden, the natives are the best!
    Look at your columbine! She's wonderful!
    Here I am, trying to make her adopt to my land...

  15. Hello gardengirl! How's your day? Columbine, a wildflower? Then it is a really beautiful one. Good choice to bring in to grace the interior ;-D Love that photo as well. Enjoy the unique blooms and have a wonderful day!

  16. You just reminded me that, DUH!, I have Dutchman's breeches, too. They're in a weird little tucked-away place I normally never go. I just went. The tag is there but no trace of the plant is. So thanks for showing yours!

  17. Enjoyed learning about the Dutchman and the breeches! I'm always on the lookout for shade flowers - wonder if they'd be happy here. We do have plenty of ants to spread the seed.

  18. Chandramouli, I agree. And the natives are easier too! My exotic tropical plants are still inside being babied until the weather is warm enough for them, and then in the fall I'll have to drag them all back in if I don't want them to freeze.

    Hi Stephanie, it's hard to believe they're wildflowers sometimes - they have an exotic look to them.

    I'm sorry your DB disappeared Monica. They may be a one season wonder here, but I do hope they'll be happy here and keep coming back.

    JGH, I do a lot of experimenting with plants here. There have been lots of surprises - some finicky plants are happy here, and some so-called easy plants languish and never come back after their first season. You won't know unless you try! :)

  19. Garden girl I found the info about the Dicentra cucullaria very interesting!Could my white bleeding heart be the same?? What ever I still love to think of the line dance as I observe the way they grow on the stems.Happy gardening to you!


Thank you for stopping by! Comments are welcomed, and while I may not always respond here, I'm happy to pay you a visit.

While comments are invited, links to commercial websites are not, and comments containing them will be deleted.

(Note to spammers: Don't bother. Your comments are promptly deleted. Hiding in older posts won't help - they're moderated.)