Monday, April 13, 2009

Dutchman's Breeches

Spring rains and slowly warming soils will soon bring an abundance of blooming native wildflowers. While many of our lawns, flower beds and gardens have witnessed blooming crocuses and daffodils for a week or so, it is these native plants that are the harbingers of spring in the forested landscape.

Today, I noticed the first blooms of one of our most interesting wildflowers that persist from year to year near the Sugar House. Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) are a very welcomed sight each spring on the hillside. These and many other spring wildflowers grow, bloom and die before most of the trees sprout their leaves and cover the forest floor in shade.
Our Dutchman's Breeches easily go unnoticed when not in bloom. The gray-green foliage blends well into the surround leaf litter and the plant only grows a few inches high. Upon close inspection of it's leaves, it looks suspiciously familiar to Bleeding Hearts (Dicentra spectabilis), which often find their way into our formal gardens and landscapes. The two plants are actually closely related, both belonging to the Genus Dicentra. Even the flowers have a similar shape.
Duchman's Breeches get their name from their resemblance to the wide-legged pants once worn by Dutch men. In the picture above, the spray of flowers look reminiscent of a row of laundered pants hanging from the clothes line. You can see these beauties for another week or so while they're still in bloom.

Its really great to find flowers like this still persisting around the sanctuary considering how many have disappeared or are unable to bloom due to deer browsing. This plant is actually quite toxic if ingested, so the deer have a reason for avoiding this particular flower. I wish the others had evolved to do the same.

We'll continue to document other flowering plants from around the sanctuary this spring and share the photos with you here. If you come across something interesting while walking our trails, take a photo, make a note in our wildlife sightings box, and send us an e-mail letting us know what you've found.

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

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