Dutchman’s Breeches Bloom the First Half of April in Pennsylvania

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.

Dutchmen's breeches blooming on the hillside.
Dutchmen's breeches blooming on the hillside.

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.

Flower stalks of dutchmen's britches.
Flower stalks of dutchmen's britches.

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.

The Venus's car, bleeding heart or lyre flower...
Image via Wikipedia Bleeding Hearts

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!

Flowers of Dutchman's britches.
Flowers of Dutchman's britches.

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 blooming on a east-facing hillside.
Dutchman's breeches blooming on a east-facing hillside.

Dutchman’s Breeches on a east-facing hill on the western side of the Juniata River. (Photo taken 10Apr2010.)

Dutchman's breeches blooming on a west-facing hillside.
Dutchman's breeches blooming on a west-facing hillside.

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.

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8 thoughts on “Dutchman’s Breeches Bloom the First Half of April in Pennsylvania”

  1. Thanks for doing such a great job with your photos and descriptions. I live up north in Canada, for 37 years, and haven’t been able to see these flowers since my youth. Happened to be in Michigan this spring and went hunting. Because of your information we were able to determine for sure that we found the plants, but they weren’t quited in bloom yet. At least your info helped me convince my hubby that I didn’t dream up the flowers!

  2. Hey Julie,
    Thanks for sharing your story about finding the Dutchman’s Breeches in the woods. Don’t you just love that name?
    So, these early spring bloomers live up in Michigan, but not so far north as where you live?

    Glad I could help you convince your man you weren’t dreamin’!

  3. I am a naturalist for Michigan’s Ottawa County Parks Department. I am working on an interpretive guide to viewable plants in our park. There are a number of photos on your website that I would love to use as I develop a guidebook for our park visitors. I am in the very beginning phase of developing this and wondered if you would consider granting me permission to use photos from your site for inclusion in the interpretive guide.

  4. Josh,
    I’m honored that you like my photography well enough to use it in your interpretive guide. I see that your county has a wonderful number of parks!
    You have my permission to use photos presented on wildeherb.com for your guide. If you would, please give a byline or credit to “wildeherb” in any publication.
    I would love to see the guide as it becomes available, so let’s continue this conversation!
    Thank you so much,
    Liz, a.k.a. wildeherb

  5. Thanks Liz, that will be so helpful. I will certainly credit you for the photos we use. It’s a slow winter project, but I will keep you updated as it progresses. Again, many thanks.


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