Bleeding-Heart Family (Fumariaceae)
A North American wildflower
Dutchman's Breeches sounds so silly, but this tiny spring ephemeral's bloom really looks like a white pair of white pants with the slightly yellowed pockets turned out. The pale green foliage is fern like and delicate. The blooms alternate up a stalk and dangle. It is easy to miss because of size as well as fleeting presence but well worth looking for and easy to recognize ever after one's first sighting. Dutchman’s Breeches grow primarily in deep, old growth forests with deciduous trees. They bloom in very early spring and then disappear (foliage and all) once the leaf canopy fills in.
The queen bumblebee
with her long tongue is the most likely pollinator
of this plant. She emerges from the ground in early Spring to begin her egg laying. Her worker bee
s will pollinate
and obtain nutrients from other species of plants that have a longer life cycle. One queen bee gaining sustenance
from and subsequently pollinating a few Dutchman’s Breeches when no other flower is yet available will give rise to an entire colony of bees to pollinate the spring and summer fruits and vegetables.
The seeds of Dutchman’s Breeches are spread by ant
s. In Patuxent
(an old growth forest area in Maryland), Appalachian mound ant
s are common, as are Dutchman’s Breeches. On a walk today (late April) most of the Dutchman’s Breeches were already going to seed, and the ant mounds were almost visibly growing. Neat timing, huh?
This plant is toxic to foraging animals if consumed in large quantities however; it is not very tasty and is usually ignored for better pickings. Still, it happens often enough that it is also known by another name - Staggerweed - due to the nature of the toxic component (a morphine-like compound). The symptoms are similar to those of consuming poppies
and it is related to the poppy family.
Ester, who leads wildflower walks at Patuxent and is writing a book that I will reference here if she EVER gets it finished!