Friday, April 18, 2014

Similar Dicentras

Dutchman's Breeches

Squirrel Corn

     We have two local spring wildflowers that are very similar: Dutchman's Breeches Dicentra cucullaria and Squirrel Corn Dicentra canadensis. This makes sense as they are after all in the same genus, the name referring to their flowers having 2 spurs. Both are spring ephemerals (blooming and reproducing before the trees completely leaf out, then going dormant underground). Both have toxic leaves (another name for both is "Lambkill") that protect them from many herbivores. Both are myrmecochorous, having their seeds dispersed by ants. Both are primarily pollinated by long-tongued bees like bumblebees, have white flowers, and very similar leaves. Both like to grow in moist, often riparian woodlands as well. They also have some differences however that are apparent, particularly when they are in flower.
     Dutchman's Breeches are the more common of the two and they also tend to bloom a week or two earlier. Their most common name comes from the flowers resembling pantaloons hanging out to dry.These plants tend to form small colonies. They usually have two compound leaves per flower stem that are longer than their look-alike cousin..
     Squirrel Corn is less commonly seen and tends to bloom a week or two later. Their most common name is derived from their yellow clusters of bulblets just below the soil surface. They are also called White Bleeding Hearts, and the heart-like flowers are the most obvious difference between them and Dutchman's Breeches. They also normally have only one, shorter compound leaf per flower stem.
     Both these flowers are open right now, their bloom times briefly overlapping this year. Go check out their differences in person. But hurry, or you will have to wait another year before they emerge and flower again.


  1. Alonso,
    I continue to enjoy your blog so much, and always learn a great deal from your postings. Of course, our spring lags yours by a month or so! Thank you for all your efforts. Jim Olivetti, Swampscott MA

  2. So good to hear from you Jim! Glad you enjoy my musings! Thanks!

  3. Thanks Alonso. These are two of my favorites. I just saw them both blooming recently at one of my favorite wildflower spots, Balls Bluff in Leesburg.