Plant of the Week
Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria (L.) Bernh.)
By Alma Hanson
Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman’s breeches) is an herbaceous perennial of the Fumariaceae family. This species has many common names depending on which part of the country you come from. One of its common names, Little Blue Staggers, is derived from its ability to induce drunken staggering if cattle graze on it, due to narcotic and toxic substances in the poppy-related genus. Bleeding heart is another common name.
This native wildflower is common throughout the eastern United States though rarer in the Pacific Northwest. The western populations of Dicentra cucullaria appear to have been separated from the eastern ones for at least one thousand years according to the Flora of North America. The western plants are somewhat coarser in appearance but generally indistinguishable from their eastern counterparts. In Idaho, the species often grows along stream corridors in gravely banks well above the waterline. It is also occurs in Washington and Oregon.
Dutchman’s Breeches blooms in the early spring from March to April. Flowers are white to pink and resemble a pair of pantaloons hanging upside down. The flowers wilt almost immediately upon picking so they should not be collected in the wild. The one or more finely compound leaves make the plant appear fern-like. This perennial species has rice-like seed bulbs and is an attractive addition to any garden in moist shady areas.