Dutchman's Breeches

Dicentra cucullaria . The name, Dutchman’s Breeches, reflects the odd shape of this close cousin of the garden “Bleeding Heart.” These are actually four-petaled flowers; two of the petals unite to form the two legs of the pantaloons while the two others are inside, but project like lips over the stamens. The shape has advantages. Each “upside-down” blossom is protected from the effects of rain and wind on the pollen. It’s also sealed from invasion by most crawling or small flying insects that might steal the nectar without performing pollination services. In fact, only the long, strong tongue of the female bumblebee is said to be able to consistently reach from the flower’s bottom opening up into each of the two, long petal-spurs to lap up the sweets — in the process, picking up and later depositing pollen. Alas, the flowers are not perfect vaults; some wasps, carpenter ants and even bumblebees have learned to chew holes through the tips of the spurs to gain direct access to the nectar. The odd shape of this flower has gained it many folk names — Soldier’s Cap, White Hearts, Eardrops, Monk’s Head, for instance — but Dutchman’s Breeches remains the most common. However, in Victorian times, the name was the subject of controversy and considered “rude” in many circles. After all, breeches were originally underwear, and the early meaning of “breech” was “buttocks” or “rump” — not exactly the stuff of garden club meetings.

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