Dutchman's breeches is a spring ephemeral that blooms for only a couple of weeks—even its attractive foliage disappears shortly after. Though it's only lush for a short time, for those two weeks in spring it will serve as a go-to plant that you simply must visit each day in the garden.
Native to North America, Dutchman's breeches is best planted in the fall and will grow slowly throughout the fall, winter, and early spring, emerging mid-season with a spray of blooms. Its uniquely-shaped flowers form a "V" and appear almost like a pair of pants handing upside-down, hence the plant's unusual name. It also boasts feathery foliage that is fern-like in appearance.
|Botanical Name||Dicentra cucullaria|
|Common Name||Dutchman's breeches|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||6–12 in. tall, 6–12 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Partial shade, full shade|
|Soil Type||Moist but well-drained|
|Soil pH||Neutral to acidic|
|Flower Color||White, pale pink|
|Hardiness Zones||3–7 (USDA)|
|Native Area||North America|
|Toxicity||Toxic to humans, dogs, and cats|
Dutchman's Breeches Care
Dutchman's breeches makes for an excellent specimen plant and a great option for gardeners looking for some early spring interest in their landscape. The plant is very easy to care for, as long as it's planted in the proper location and will reward you with a slew of visually unique blooms bound to get any garden visitors talking.
In the wild, they are often found in rocky, sloping areas of moist, shaded woodland. Once they've bloomed in early spring, both the stems and leaves will drop to the ground and the plant will go dormant until the following year. Because they essentially "clear space" for other late spring or summer blooms, they're a great option for gardeners looking for a consistently blooming garden. Additionally, because the plant is present so early on in the season, it rarely has issues with pests or diseases.
Perhaps a unique quality for a blooming plant, Dutchman's breeches love a shady spot in your landscape and do best planted somewhere that received either partial or full shade. The reason: In their natural habitat, these plants are used to growing on the forest floor under a canopy of trees and receiving only filtered sunlight. Because of this, they make a great option for gardeners who have lots of mature trees on their property or those with shaded spots looking for a little love.
Though Dutchman's breeches can adapt to a variety of different soil conditions, the plant will do best in a mixture that is moist, rich in organic matter, and well-draining. Moisture is especially important during the weeks leading up to the plant's brief bloom, but it's also helpful for Dutchman's breeches to experience drier soil once it reaches dormancy. Having that unique combination will produce the most growth and blooms for the following year. Additionally, the plant loves a soil mixture that is acidic, though it can also do well with a pH level closer to neutral.
Dutchman's breeches requires an average amount of water to grow successfully. In colder zones, most of this water is provided by melting snow in early spring, so it's not typically necessary that those in areas that experience a true winter will have to provide water manually. If manual watering is necessary in your region, a good rule of thumb is to allow the ground to dry slightly—but never completely—before watering the plant again. You can cease all watering once the plant has had its spring bloom.
Temperature and Humidity
As long as they're planted in the proper USDA hardiness zone, Dutchman's breeches plants shouldn't need anything specific in the way of temperature or humidity. The plant will need a period of cold in order to germinate for the following spring, and you should see new plants emerge when the soil has warmed to around 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
While fertilizing your Dutchman's breeches plant is not necessary for its success and growth, it does benefit from being planted in soil that is nutrient-dense. If your landscape is lacking, amend your soil with a bit of organic matter before planting.
Symptoms of Poisoning in Animals
- Difficulty breathing
- Irritation around the nose, throat, or mouth
- Loss of balance
Propagating Dutchman's Breeches
If you wish to add more Dutchman's breeches plants to your yard (or locate them elsewhere), your best bet is to do so by division. Come fall, carefully dig up corms from mature plants that have flowered for at least one to two previous seasons. Diving the corms by breaking off a smaller bulb, then plant in the desired location about 1 inch below ground level. Keep in mind that while you will likely see a plant with leaves the first year, the divided plant will not flower until three to four years later.