Dutchman’s BreechesDicentra cucullaria  (dy-SEN-truh / koo-koo-LAYR-ee-uh)
Squirrel CornDicentra canadensis (dy-SEN-truh / kan-uh-DEN-sis)
FamilyPapaveraceae (pah-pah-ver-AY-see-ee), the Poppy Family
SubfamilyFumarioideae (the Fumitory subfamily)

Dutchman’s Breeches

“Dutchman’s Breeches” is one of the most recognizable wildflowers that we have in St. Louis.  As its common name suggests, the flowers look like short, white, baggy trousers hanging upside-down from a clothesline. Those pantlegs are referred to as “spurs” and the genus name “Dicentra” is Greek for “two spurs”.   

​Inside those spurs near the cuffs are the nectaries.  Queen bumblebees (the only bumblebees that survive the winter) need that nectar.  Believe it or not, when a bee is down at the trousers’ waist, its proboscis is long enough to reach those nectaries way at the end of the pantlegs, pollinating the flower in the process.  The bees and the flowers evolved together and depend on each other.  (Unfortunately for these two comrades, there are other insects that just chew through the pantlegs and steal the nectar without pollinating the plant.)  

It’s hard to make heads or tails out of such a strange flower. The photo above helps by showing the flower pistil-side-up with part of pant’s “waist” removed. You can see the large green style, capped with its stigma.  You can see 2 groups of little stamens.  In the pant’s crotch you can see the green pedicel (stem) from which the pants would be attached to the clothesline (when turned “upside-down” in its normal position).

Flower Features of Dutchman’s Breeches


The inflorescence is a raceme with 2-6 pairs of white flowers.


Calyx: Dutchman’s Breeches has 2 pairs of sepals: one very small white pair and one larger pair with a pink midvein. 
Corolla: 4 petals, joined at the base.  The 2 outer large white petals form nectar spurs; the 2 small inner yellow petals have wings at their tips.


Stamens: Dutchman’s Breeches has 6 stamens with their filaments united in 2 groups of 3 on opposite sides of the ovary (as with other Fumariaceae).


Ovary: superior-positioned ovary
Carpels: 2 fused carpels forming a single chamber
Stigma: single green style with a lobed tip.
Fruit: single-chambered ovary will mature into a small, football-shaped, 2-valved capsule containing small kidney-shaped seeds with oily elaiosomes attached to them.

Squirrel Corn

The photo below is not of Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) but rather of its lookalike, “Squirrel Corn” (Dicentra canadensis).  Although Squirrel Corn is less common, let’s learn to distinguish between the two.

Nobody ever seems to notice Squirrel Corn (Dicentra canadensis).  On iNaturalist there are hundreds of  Dutchman’s Breeches sightings in the St. Louis area, but no sightings of Squirrel Corn.  Zero!  How can that be?  Is Squirrel Corn really that rare, or do people just misidentify it as Dutchman’s Breeches?

Here are 6 differences between “Squirrel Corn” and “Dutchman’s Breeches”:

1. LEG LENGTH: A first big difference is that the trouser-legs for Squirrel Corn are much shorter and puffier than the long trouser legs for Dutchman’s Breeches.  In fact the Squirrel legs don’t go much higher than the pedicel connection at the crotch. 

2. SHAPE OF ANKLE ENDSThe ankle ends of the Squirrel’s pants are rounded and puffy, whereas the ankle ends of the Dutchman’s pants are narrow. 

3. BIG HEART vs. BIG “V”: Another big clue is that from a distance the Squirrel’s flower looks like a big heart, whereas the Dutchman’s flower looks like a big “V”.

4. WHITE or YELLOW WAIST: Another difference can be found at their waists.  The Squirrel’s waist is all white, whereas the Dutchman often wears a yellow waistband.

5. FRAGRANCE: A particularly nice difference is that the Squirrel’s flower smells like hyacinth, whereas the Dutchman’s flower has no odor. 

6. CORN TUBERS: The final test takes place below the soil line (which we don’t need to do because it might kill the plant).  The little tubers in which Squirrel Corn stores its starch are pea-shaped and yellow in color.  They resemble kernels of corn which in fact real squirrels actually eat (hence the common name).  The little tubers of the Dutchman’s Breeches plant, on the other hand, are teardrop-shaped and mostly white in color.  This would be an important time to remind ourselves that all parts of these two plants (with the possible exception of the little yellow tubers that the squirrels eat) are narcotic and toxic with some 35 different alkaloids. 

Here’s a pleasant, short VIDEO (2:42) that compares Dutchman’s Breeches with Squirrel Corn. 

​And now for a bonus. So far we’ve met Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman’s Breeches) and Dicentra canadensis (Squirrel Corn).  There’s a 3rd Dicentra in St. Louis but it’s only found in flower gardens.  It’s the beautiful, red-colored Dicentra spectabilis (Bleeding Heart) pictured below.  It’s name has since been changed to Lamprocapnos spectabilis, but the old name is still often used.  Notice the 2 pink pant-like spurs and how similar it looks to our other Dicentra species. 

Flower-Spotter Week #1 (March 20-26)

Please protect the plants in our natural areas.
Locations where Dutchman’s Breeches can be found:

Please protect the plants in our natural areas.
Locations where Squirrel Corn can be found: