How to Grow and Care for Dutchman's Breeches

A U.S. Native Plant Named for Its Amusing Shape

Dutchman's breeches plant with small white uniquely-shaped flowers above deeply-toothed leaves

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

In This Article

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 are 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." They are called Dutchman's breeches or britches for looking like a pair of old-fashioned Dutch pants drying upside-down on a clothesline. It also boasts feathery foliage that is fern-like in appearance. All parts of Dutchman's breeches are toxic to humans and animals.

Common Name Dutchman's breeches, staggerweed
Botanical Name Dicentra cucullaria
Family Papaveraceae
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
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color White, pale pink
Hardiness Zones 3–7 (USDA)
Native Area North America
Toxicity Toxic to humans, dogs, and cats
Dutchman's breeches flowers with small white uniquely-shaped flowers above toothed leaves in sunlight

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

Dutchman's breeches small white flowers on thin stems above deeply-toothed foliage

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

Dutchman's breeches stem with small white uniquely shaped flowers with yellow tips

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

Dutchman's breeches plant with small white uniquely-shaped flowers on stem above deeply-toothed leaves

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

Dutchman's Breeches Care

Dutchman's breeches make for an excellent specimen plant and a great option for gardeners looking for some early spring interest in their landscape. The plant is straightforward 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, 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 early in the season, it rarely has issues with pests or diseases. Deer and rabbits generally do not eat Dutchman's breeches.

Light

Perhaps a unique quality for a blooming plant, Dutchman's breeches love a shady spot in your landscape and do best planted somewhere that receives either partial or full shade. The reason: In their natural habitat, these plants grow on the forest floor under a canopy of trees and receive only filtered sunlight. Because of this, they make a great option for gardeners with lots of mature trees on their property or those with shaded spots looking for a bit of love.

Soil

Though Dutchman's breeches can adapt to various soil conditions, the plant will do best in a moist, rich in organic matter, and well-draining mixture. Moisture is vital 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. The plant loves an acidic soil mixture, though it can also do well with a pH level closer to neutral. That unique combination will produce the most growth and blooms for the following year.

Water

Dutchman's breeches require 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 proper winter will have to provide water manually. If manual watering is needed 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 regarding temperature or humidity. The plant will need a period of cold to germinate for the following spring, and you should see new plants emerge when the soil has warmed to around 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fertilizer

While fertilizing your Dutchman's breeches plant is not necessary for its success and growth, it benefits from planting in nutrient-dense soil. If your landscape is lacking, amend your soil with some organic matter before planting.

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.

Divide the corms by breaking off a smaller bulb, then plant in the desired location about 1 inch below ground level. Remember 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. Transplant when the plants are dormant and not actively growing or flowering.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Dutchman's breeches. Penn State University.