2022: Missouri’s Spring Ephemeral Wildflowers “Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria.)”

Five years, that is how long it has been since I last picked up my macro kit and attempted to photograph wildflowers. Many a thing has changed in the world, in the last five years. If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed in life, it’s that change is inevitable. Whether we’ve planned for it or not, life has a way of surprising us. The best we can do, sometimes, is take those unexpected turns as opportunities for personal growth, self-reflection, and new beginnings.

So my focus this spring will be on spring ephemerals. The word ephemeral means transitory or quickly fading. In botany terms, it refers to several distinct growth strategies. Perennial plants emerge quickly in the spring and die back to their underground parts after a short growth and reproduction phase. These early woodland wildflowers occupy a short yet glorious interval in the woodland, blooming and setting seed during a small window of time between snowmelt and when the trees leaf out.

The Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) The generic name of this delicate spring ephemeral flower derives from the Greek for “two-spurred.” Fern-like leaves subtend a naked flower stalk bearing a row of nodding, double-spurred, white flowers. Clusters of fragrant, white, pantaloon-shaped flowers are on a leafless stalk and overtop the much-divided, feathery basal leaves. The flowers are pollinated by early bumblebees, whose proboscis is long enough to tap the nectar. Honeybees, with a shorter proboscis, can gather only the pollen with their front feet.

Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)

It is rumored to be a most sought after wildflower in the state because of its unique appearance. They are about ¾ inch long and have a white to light pink color with a yellow line on the flower’s bottom. Clusters of 4 to 10 flowers hang on each 5 to 10-inch stalk for a dazzling display. These plants hug the ground for warmth and their early foliage soaks up the bright springtime sunshine before the trees dare emerge — the plants are exceedingly tolerant of springtime cold snaps and late snowfalls.  As soon as the trees leaf out above them, and rob them of much-needed sunlight; they yellow and go dormant, storing energy in their roots to repeat the performance the following spring.  These marvelous plants are found only in the temperate deciduous forests of the Northern Hemisphere — the only habitat that provides the appropriate growing season for them.

Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) near a fallen tree

As I was packing up from the shoot, one of the key things I noticed, when looking at the scene was the reddish pink bulbous roots. Tubers are light pink and fleshy with small, uniformly scattered darker pink, elongated spots. Mature tubers produce a single leaf or flower stem.

“Roots” Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)

Until the next adventure. If you would like to be updated when I post new blogs articles, please sign up for my email list @ my blog.

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  1. Ephemerals – beauties that remind us that being present is important to savor those special moments of life that are all around us, right under our foot (both literal and metaphorical), but missed because we have our eyes turned upwards and trained on the distant goals.
    Such delicate beauties and you have made some wonderful observations.

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