Went to drop off the car at the local garage a couple weeks ago for its annual inspection. The garage is located on a “river road” that travels along the Juniata River in Perry County, PA.
On Saturday, 3Apr2010, I had reason to travel the same river road (on my way to Little Buffalo State Park in Newport, PA) and it was then that I first spied these massive groupings of Dutchman’s Breeches. Until then I had not seen such a large grouping of these curious Spring ephemeral flowers.
Dutchman’s Breeches, Dicentra cucullaria, were blooming in mass quantities on high stone outcroppings and along the roadside. The stoney hillside coming up from the river bank is gradual in slope on the river side of the road, but once you cross the road the stone rises more vertical, making small cliffs in a couple areas that are probably 30 to 50 ft. tall.
The Dutchman’s Breeches were in full bloom and really shone white in the sunlight. As we passed by them in the car you could easily see the white blossoms on their flower spike hanging above the plant greenery.
Dutchman’s Breeches have all their flowers in a row going up a curved flower stalk, in the manner of the old time garden favorite Bleeding Hearts, Dicentra spectabilis, a close relative of Dutchman’s Breeches. Comparing one to the other you can see similarities in the way the flowers hang from their flower stems.
While the Bleeding Hearts dangle down from their flower stem, the Dutchman’s Breeches appear to be hanging on the clothesline with their feet up!
Note the highly divided, feathery leaves. This closeup image shows the “pantaloons” hanging from the flower stalk. The unique flower of Dutchman’s Breeches makes identification a simple matter. No other flower looks quite like a hanging pantaloon. Another related plant, called Squirrel Corn, Dicentra canadensis, has a similar flower, but instead of two “legs” sticking up it’s blossom has a rounded end that makes it look like a kernel of corn.
We’ve seen Dutchman’s Breeches blooming from the 3rd to the 18th of April this year, so there’s at least a two week time period to observe their flowers, which is kind of long for a Spring ephemeral. Once you know what they look like, they’re easily noticed – even while driving by at highway speeds – by their flowers on the upright flower stalks.
Apparently, Dutchman’s Breeches prefer a wooded, hillside habitat. We’ve seen several areas with mass groupings of them and all were on a slope in wooded areas.
Dutchman’s Breeches on a east-facing hill on the western side of the Juniata River. (Photo taken 10Apr2010.)
Dutchman’s Breeches on a west-facing hill on the eastern side of the Juniata River. (Photo taken 7Apr2010.)
Blooming on the same west-facing slope were Dogtooth Violet or Trout Lily, Cut-Leaved Toothwort and Spring Beauty. This slightly shaded, moist area next to the river was still receiving runoff as we saw some water flowing down the rocks to the river.