For Your Garden - February 2008
Are you wishing winter was over and the spring wildflowers were blooming? While you've still got time to plan, why not think about including some native wildflowers in your shaded garden? Native woodland wildflowers are resistant to cold and drought and are rarely attacked by disease and insects. They are perennials that you can enjoy year after year. They bloom early in the season before tree leaves have all unfurled to take advantage of light that will be unavailable to them later in the spring and summer.
Dutchman's-breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)Photo © Illinois Department of Natural Resurces
The Dutchman's-breeches plant develops from a bulb and can be found statewide growing in rich woodlands. There are no leaf-bearing stalks. The finely divided leaves arise from the base and provide an interesting accent to the garden. Flowers are present from mid-March through early May. Flowers are white with a yellow tip, and they develop in clusters on a leafless stalk that may be 10 inches tall. Individual flowers average two-thirds inch long and three-fourths inch wide. The four petals are arranged in two inflated pairs. Petals spread out and have pointed spurs at the base. Fruits are oblong to linear and contain several seeds.
The plant's common name was bestowed because the flowers resemble wide-legged trousers worn by European men in historic times. Although the “breeches” are upside down on the flower stalk, it's not hard to imagine a pair of pantaloons hanging from a line and blowing in the wind when you look at these flowers.
The Dutchman's-breeches plant contains an alkaloid that is poisonous to cattle.
Classification and taxonomy are based on Mohlenbrock, Robert H. 2014. Vascular flora of Illinois: A field guide. Fourth edition. Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale. 536 pp.