Plants & Gardens Blog

Dutchman’s Breeches in Bloom

Dicentra cuccullaria often called Dutchman’s breeches, bachelor’s breeches, boys-and-girls, kitten breeches, little-boy’s breeches, or staggerweed is in bloom in the Native Flora Garden.

Soft pale green pinnate foliage, feathery texture, and dainty flowers hanging like charms on a bracelet makes this spring ephemeral instantly recognizable and widely loved. The flowers consist of two outer petals, each shaped like a trouser or pant leg, together forming a tiny pair of breeches or pantaloons. There are two beaked, inner petals that surround the stamens and pistil, excluding all but the largest long-tongued bees access to the nectar and pollen. Easily cultivated and care free, this species thrives in moist, rich woodland soils. This plant is toxic to grazing animals—if it’s ingested, it causes them to stagger about, disoriented and unsteady. It also holds a special place in Native American lore. The ethnobotanist Huron Smith wrote in 1923, “This is one of the most important love charms of the Menomini. The young swain tries to throw it at his intended and hit her with it. Another way is for him to chew the root, breathing out so that the scent will carry to her. He then circles around the girl, and when she catches the scent, she will follow him wherever he goes.”

Uli Lorimer is director of Horticulture at Garden In The Woods, in Framingham, Massachussettes. Previously, he was curator of BBG's Native Flora Garden.

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