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Pollination of Dutchman’s Breeches ~ A Royal Affair

Dutchman’s Breeches ~ Dicentra cucullaria
Dutchman’s breeches flowers first in the spring generally at the end of April however that season nearer to mid-May. The bright white’trousers’ seem as though they are hanging to dry.

Little plants require a few years to set up and blossom but it’s well worth the wait; plant in tiny masses for improved effect in a woodland garden. The foliage yellows and dies back by mid-June so it is a good concept to inter-plant with after flowering species such as false solomon’s seal to cover the void.

The time of flowering of dutchman’s breeches coincides with the emergence of overwintering queen bumble bees.  As queen bumble bees emerge from hibernation, they fly into the ground in woodlands looking for proper nesting sites in abandoned rodent holes, leaf piles or other places. Dutchman’s breeches, the growing functions as an important nectar source to be utilised in the initial provisioning of their nests.

Queen bumble bees have the tongue span, strength and size to open open the petals over the flowers. As the blossom develops, the bottom of the rainbow reflexes revealing the coloration near the opening. This coloration functions as a visual attractant to visiting queens. They land on the blossoms grasping on the petals they too, as pictured in this photo’s face, grasp onto blossoms that are adjoining with their legs.

As soon as they have a great grip they rotate their own bodies to be able to access the blossom opening, then directing their mind toward one of their nectar spurs. Pushing their tongues then leads directly between the inner and outer petals allows them to get to the nectar in the spurs and opens the flowers. As the interior petals are deflected revealing the anthers, pollen is brushed onto the head and thorax. Their legs grasp the petals which helps expose stigma and the anthers and finally transfers pollen onto their forelegs.

Pollen also accumulates around the bottom edges of the petals. The inner petals are hinged and the petals go back to their initial place once the bee removes its head from the flower. Pollen which has dropped to the edges of the petals is transferred into this bee’s middle legs. The pollen placement for pollination of the Dutchman’s breeches blossom visited is on the head and thorax.

Other bigger worker bumble bees chew small holes at the two nectar spurs to steal nectar as they are not strong enough to pry open the petals and have shorter tongues than queen sized bees.

Even smaller parasitic species like Cuckoo bees, Nomada sp. Fly and sometimes land the flowers on investigating them for a possible reward, however, none could be obtained.

Like many other spring-flowering woodland plants, the seeds of Dutchman’s breeches are dispersed by ants. Ants are attracted to the protein-rich elaiosome attached to the seeds. They take them shedding the seed in their own nest’s trash pile and back to their nests swallowing the elaiosome.

At the lack of queen sized bees, the blossoms of dutchman’s breeches are all self-compatible and frequently self-pollinate.

Macior, L. W. (1970). Dicentra cucullaria’s pollination ecology. Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2440374

Macior, L. W. (1978). Pollination connections in Dicentra species.


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