Variations on a Theme: Dicentras


Dicentra cucullaria
Dutchman’s breeches or britches






Dicentra canadensis




Both of these low-growing spring ephemerals can be found in rich, moist woodlands. Both have finely cut blue-green foliage, but as you can see from the pictures the leaflet lobes of Dutchman’s breeches are a little rounder and closer together, while those of squirrel-corn are more linear and open. The flower shapes are also slightly different, the former having two pointed lobes at the top, the latter having two rounded lobes.

These two plants are placed in the Fumariaceae (fumewort family) by some authorities.  Other authorities consider this group a sub-family (Fumarioideae) of the Papaveraceae (poppy family).

There are seven native species of Dicentra; three can be found on west coast and three on the east coast, while Dutchman’s breeches can be found on both (but not in the mountain states or desert southwest). Squirrel-corn is threatened in Connecticut, Maine, and New Hampshire and endangered in New Jersey.

Of the three east coast species, the third, called wild bleeding heart or turkey-corn, is threatened in Maryland.  I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing it in the wild.