Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Native Species Profile - Dutchman's Breeches

I went back out to Chipp-A-Waters Park again this afternoon to check on the progress of the spring ephemeral wildflowers.  The Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) that was not fully open yesterday, was past its prime by this afternoon.  This is normal for Bloodroot; if you do not catch the bloom in the morning it will be done by afternoon.  Many year I miss the Bloodroot bloom entirely.

The Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) looks about the same as yesterday.  It should be blooming in about two day.  The Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) is taller, but is largely unchanged.  Cut-leaved Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata) is also growing quickly.  Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) and Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia) have begun blooming.

The wildflower that has progressed the most in the last 24 hours is the Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria).

Dutchman's Breeches

Dutchman's Breeches is an early spring wildflower that can be found in woodlands throughout 34 eastern states and 6 Canadian provinces.  It is also found in the Columbia River Gorge in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.  The Great Lakes is squarely in the center of its eastern range.  Dutchman's Breeches typically blooms in late April in Mid-Michigan, but can bloom earlier or later depending on weather conditions.  It grows and flowers quickly and then will die back to its roots for the rest of the year.  Like all spring ephemeral wildflowers, it completes it annual growth cycle before the canopy trees leaf out.

Dutchman's Breeches often forms dense colonies.  Like many other spring wildflowers, its seeds are spread by ants who gather them for food.  Each seed is attached to a fleshy structure called an elaiosome.  Ants gather the seeds for the elaiosome, which they consume as food.  The seed itself is discarded on the ant colonies midden pile where it remains protected by the ants until it germinates.  This practice ensures that many spring wildflowers spread each year.

Even when the Dutchman's Breeches are not in bloom they are easy to identify from their short fern-like leaves that resemble those of flat leaf parsley. 

Dutchman's Breeches

The flowers of Dutchman's Breeches are suspended above the leaves on a long stalk.  Each stalk may support several flowers.  The twin-spurred white and yellow flowers resemble pairs of pantaloons hanging by their legs, hence the name Dutchman's Breeches.  Each flower stalk may rise to a total height of 4 to 12 inches.  The flowers are pollinated mainly by bumble bees.  Bumble bees have a long proboscis that can reach up into the flower. Another possible pollinator are flies in the Bombyliidae family, also known as Bee Flies.  Like bumble bees, these important but little known pollinators have a long proboscis that allows them to reach deep inside flowers.

Dutchman's Breeches Flowers
Dutchman's Breeches Flowers - the flowers lower on the stalk mature first

Bombilidae "Bee Fly" species found near Dutchman's Breeches colony (4/30/13)
The Dutchman's Breeches is often found growing with another Dicentra species; Squirrel Corn                 (D. canadensis).  Squirrel Corn can be distinguished by the flowers which are heart-shaped and by the leaves, which tend to be more deeply divided lobes than those of the Dutchman's Breeches.  The leaves are also a different shade of green.

Dutchman's Breeches and Squirrel Corn growing side by side

Squirrel Corn

Basic Information

Dutchman’s Breeches 
Dicentra cucullaria

Height:  4-12” tall

Habitat:  deciduous woods

Flower Color:  white

Bloom Time:  April

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