How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Dutchman’s Breeches

Have you ever seen the sweet spring-blooming wildflower known as Dutchman’s breeches? If you’ve seen them, you’ll probably want to grow them in your own backyard. In this article, gardening expert and native plant enthusiast Liessa Bowen will discuss the proper care and maintenance of these beautiful native wildflowers.

Close-up of a flowering Dutchmans breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) plant in a sunny garden. The plant features finely dissected, fern-like leaves that form a basal rosette close to the ground. Rising on slender stems, the unique white flowers resemble upside-down pantaloons or breeches, with two elongated spurs pointing downward.


Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) is a perennial wildflower native to eastern North America. It is found in cool, moist woodlands and is a characteristic ephemeral wildflower, blooming alongside other common spring wildflowers, such as trillium, spring beauty, bluebells, trout lily, and bloodroot. 

If you’ve ever noticed these dainty plants growing in the wild, you might be curious if you can grow them in your own woodland garden. The good news is that, yes, you can grow these plants at home, provided you have the proper conditions for them. 

These showy plants would look wonderful in your shade garden. Their unusual flowers and attractive leaves will spice up your late winter and springtime landscape. Unfortunately, they won’t last the entire growing season before going dormant for the summer. But that’s okay. Grow them with an assortment of other perennial wildflowers so they will complement each other for four seasons of garden beauty.  

These plants may be a bit tricky to find at your local landscaping center, but if you locate a greenhouse or nursery specializing in native plants, you may get lucky and find one. If you do, keep reading to find out more about Dutchman’s breeches and how to help them thrive in your garden.

Plant Overview

Close-up of Dutchman's Breeches flowers against a blurred background. The blooms, appearing in early spring, exhibit a unique structure resembling tiny, upside-down pantaloons or miniature hanging hearts. Each white flower consists of two outer petals that flare open like pant legs, revealing inner petals fused at the base, forming a distinct pouch-like shape.
Plant Type Herbaceous perennial
Family Papaveraceae
Genus Dicentra
Species cucullaria
Native Area Eastern North America and the Columbia Basin
USDA Hardiness Zone 3 – 7
Sun Exposure Partial to full shade
Soil Type Rich, moist, well-drained
Watering Requirements Medium
Maintenance Low
Suggested Uses Shade garden, cottage garden, native garden
Height 0.5 – 1 feet
Bloom Season Spring
Flower Color White
Attracts Butterflies, bees, pollinators
Problems Aphids, drought, rot
Resistant To Deer, rabbits
Plant Spacing 6 – 12 inches

Natural History

Close-up of a flowering plant in a sunny forest near a large trunk. The plant features finely divided, fern-like leaves forming a basal rosette, while slender stems rise to showcase the enchanting white flowers. The blooms, resembling upside-down pantaloons, exhibit two elongated spurs pointing downward, creating a distinctive and whimsical appearance.
Dicentra includes eight species that are widespread in the cool woodlands of North America and Japan.

There are eight separate species within the genus Dicentra which include seven species in North America, and one species from Japan. This is an interesting and attractive plant that can be easily grown in cultivation. Its popularity has yielded several hybrids and cultivars with variations in flower color and shape.

Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) is the most widespread species and is native to eastern North America, from Canada south to Oklahoma, east to South Carolina. There are also colonies found in moist woodlands of the northwestern United States, including Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. There are a few less common species that inhabit various regions along the Pacific coast, from Washington to California.

This spring-blooming wildflower is characteristic of cool, moist woodlands with rich, moist soil. It may be found in mountainous regions, cool valleys, or along moist streambanks and cool riverside edges. The flowers attract pollinators and are a valuable plant for a wildlife-friendly landscape.


Close-up of (Dicentra cucullaria) flowering in bright sunlight. This woodland perennial unveils finely dissected, fern-like leaves forming a low rosette close to the ground. Delicate, nodding white flowers, resembling upside-down pantaloons with distinct pouch-like spurs, emerge on slender stems, creating a whimsical and enchanting sight.
This spring perennial boasts attractive, fern-like leaves, heart-shaped white flowers, and self-spreading seeds.

This herbaceous perennial blooms early in the spring. This spring ephemeral wildflower is one of the first flowering plants to emerge each season. The leaves begin to emerge in late winter. Dutchman’s breeches blooms in early spring, then shortly after blooming, the plant goes dormant and remains unseen until the following year.

Dutchman’s breeches have very attractive foliage with reddish stems. The deeply cut, almost fern-like leaves form neat clumps that slowly spread over time, eventually forming large colonies. Soon after leaf out, leafless flowering stems appear, lined with very unusual flowers. 

A series of nodding heart-shaped flowers with hollow centers that appear to dangle along a leafless flowering stem. The flowers are pure white, although other related species and cultivars may have white or pink heart-shaped flowers. 

The pollinated flowers give way to an oval-shaped seed capsule that tapers to a point at each end. The fruits have typically fully ripened and split open by late spring. A mature seed pod will shoot seeds into the surrounding soil, where they may germinate to form new plants. Some seeds are carried away by ants and birds to begin to form new colonies.


Propagate by seed or division, but the easiest method, by far, is the division of mature clusters. 


Close-up of an open seed pod of Dicentra. It forms small, elongated pods that contain the seeds. These pods, resembling miniature pea pods, are green and slightly inflated, housing the seeds within. The seeds of Dicentra are small, smooth, and dark in color.
Grow from fresh seeds, ensuring moisture, cold stratification, and spring sowing.

The native species can be grown from seed, but any seeds produced by hybrids and cultivars will not grow true to the parent plant. If you want to try growing Dutchman’s breeches from seed, you will need to obtain fresh seeds and keep them moist. If they dry out, they won’t germinate. 

To mimic natural conditions, first store the freshly collected seeds in moist sand at room temperature until fall. You’ll then need to cold-stratify the seeds for at least six weeks. You can do this by storing them in moist sand in your refrigerator. Then, direct sow them outdoors in early spring, and be sure to keep the seeds moist the entire time until they germinate.  


Close-up of a Dutchman's breeches seedling on a wooden table with a garden trowel. The plant has root tubers, thin upright stems with dissected, fern-like green leaves. At the top of the stem grow white blossoms that are uniquely shaped, resembling upside-down pantaloons or miniature hearts.
Divide in fall by separating root tubers and replanting for healthy spring growth.

Dutchman’s breeches spread readily by fibrous, rhizomatous roots that have bulb-like clusters. Fall is an excellent time of year for dividing larger clusters. The most difficult part of this process is remembering exactly where your plants are at this time of year. The leaves will die back during the summer, so by fall, you will have to locate a clump of plants.

Dig up a cluster of several plants and carefully separate the root tubers and crowns from each other. Immediately replant them as single plants or in smaller clusters and water them well. Each new group of tubers should regrow into healthy new plants the following spring.


Close-up of a young Dicentra cucullaria plant in a sunny garden. The plant produces clusters of small buds that appear as tightly closed, elongated structures along slender stems. The leaves are finely divided, fern-like, dark green in color.
Transplant in cooler seasons to a shaded, moist soil location, watering well.

Transplanting potted Dutchman’s breeches is simple. All you need is a pair of gardening gloves and a shovel or trowel. You can transplant your potted plants at any time, but the cooler seasons of winter, spring, or fall will be the most ideal. Your transplanting success will depend largely on the location where you place your plant. Choose the best possible location with plenty of shade and rich, moist soil. 

In your chosen location, dig a hole slightly larger than the root mass of your plant or plants. Carefully remove your plant from its pot and gently place it into the hole. Make sure the crown of the plant stays close to the soil surface; don’t bury it much deeper than it was previously. Then refill the empty space around the roots with high-quality soil. 

Water your plant well to help it settle in, and add a layer of organic mulch around it to preserve soil moisture. Keep your plant well-watered for the first few weeks after transplanting to help them become well-established in their new location. You can add a thin layer of organic mulch around your transplants to preserve soil moisture.

How to Grow

This is an easy-to-grow plant as long as you have the right conditions. Paying special attention to your climate zone, sunlight, soil, and water will help ensure your plant is growing in an ideal location. 


Close-up of a flowering Dutchman's Breeches plant (Dicentra cucullaria) in a sunny garden. Its appearance is characterized by unique, pant-like, white flowers that hang in clusters resembling upside-down trousers. The flowers have two elongated spurs that give them the appearance of breeches or pantaloons, hence the name. The finely cut, fern-like foliage emerges in a graceful, low mound beneath the dangling blooms.
Plant in partial shade, with less than 6 hours of sunlight for optimal growth.

Dutchman’s breeches need a shaded location. Ideally, place your plants in a partially shaded location with less than 6 hours of direct sunlight each day. They naturally grow as an understory plant in mature forests, so they are well-adapted to full shade or dappled sunlight conditions.


Close-up of a flowering Dicentra cucullaria plant with water drops on the leaves. The fern-like leaves are finely dissected and arranged in a basal rosette. The unique white flowers, resembling miniature pantaloons, are clustered and dangle from arching stems.
Provide consistently moist soil and supplemental watering during prolonged dry conditions.

These plants need consistently moist soil and are not tolerant of any prolonged dry conditions. If your soil is prone to drying completely, you’ll definitely want to offer your plants supplemental watering any time there hasn’t been much rainfall. 


Close-up of a raised bed with fresh soil. There is a hori-hori gardening tool on the garden bed. Rosemary plants grow and bright red flowers bloom against a blurred background.
Plant in well-drained, organic-rich soil with good moisture retention and slightly acidic pH.

Provide your Dutchman’s breeches with high-quality soil. The soil should be rich in organic matter and well-drained. Ideally, the soil will hold moisture well and have a neutral to slightly acidic pH

Climate and temperature

View of Dutchman's Breeches flowering plant in a sunny forest. The slender, arching stems carry clusters of dainty white blossoms, each resembling upside-down trousers, with two elongated spurs adding to the charm. The finely cut, fern-like foliage forms an attractive backdrop, creating a picturesque scene.
The plants thrive in Zones 3-7, tolerating freezing but not extreme heat or aridity.

Dutchman’s breeches live primarily in cooler climates and will perform best in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones three through seven. They are perfectly tolerant of freezing temperatures when they are dormant for the winter, but they do not like the more extreme hot, humid, or arid climates. 


Close-up of blooming inflorescences of the Dicentra cucullaria plant in sunlight against a blurred background. Resembling tiny, upside-down pantaloons, the white blossoms hang in clusters from slender, arching stems. Each flower features two elongated spurs, contributing to its whimsical appearance.
Dutchman’s breeches thrive without fertilizer; use organic-rich soil and biodegradable mulch instead.

Native wildflowers don’t need extra fertilization and will do quite well with naturally organically rich soil types. You can boost soil nutrition by adding a light biodegradable mulch around your plants. You don’t need to add any chemical fertilizer products.


Close-up of Dutchman's Breeches blooming in the garden. The white, pendulous flowers, resembling upside-down pantaloons, dangle delicately from slender stems, each adorned with two elongated spurs. This whimsical floral arrangement stands out against the backdrop of finely cut, fern-like leaves that form a basal rosette.
Dutchman’s breeches are low-maintenance.

These are very low-maintenance wildflowers. As long as they have good growing conditions, there isn’t really anything extra that you need to do to keep your plants looking great. 

They will die back in the summer, and the vegetation will quickly wither and disappear. Apply a thin layer of mulch once a year, such as shredded leaves or a top-dressing of organic compost, to enrich the soil and preserve soil moisture.

During periods of drought, you may want to give your plants some extra water to make sure the soil stays moist. As with any flower garden, pull weeds around your garden plants to keep your garden looking tidy and your plants healthy.

Garden Design

Close-up of Dutchman's Breeches in bloom in the garden. Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) showcases a captivating juxtaposition of delicate flowers and finely cut leaves. The distinct white blossoms, resembling miniature upside-down pantaloons, dangle gracefully in clusters from slender stems. Beneath this enchanting floral display, the plant's foliage emerges in a low mound of intricately dissected, fern-like leaves.
Plant Dutchman’s breeches in woodland or shade gardens.

The best location to plant is in a woodland garden or shade garden. If you have a stand of mature trees growing in rich, moist soil, go ahead and plant your Dutchman’s breeches under these trees, as this will closely mimic their natural woodland growing conditions. 

Try growing it along with some other spring ephemerals for a showy early-season flowering display. But then include some long-standing, shade-loving plants, such as hostas and ferns, that will fill in the space when the spring ephemerals go dormant. 

Dutchman’s breeches probably won’t make a good border or edging plant because they disappear from sight by mid-summer. They also won’t make a good container plant because they love cool, moist soil. If you are planting a wildlife-friendly landscape, cottage garden, or native plant garden, however, these plants are an excellent choice!


‘Aurora,’ Dicentra ‘Aurora’

Close-up of a flowering Dicentra 'Aurora' plant in a sunny garden against a blurred background. This bleeding heart variety features distinctive pendant flowers in shades of soft pink and creamy white, forming heart-shaped blooms along gracefully arching stems. The finely divided, fern-like foliage complements the blooms, creating a lush backdrop.
This cultivar features heart-shaped white flowers, blooming in spring and summer.

‘Aurora,’ also known as the fern-leaf bleeding heart, is a cultivar with heart-shaped white flowers. It blooms in the springtime and, in cooler climates, may continue blooming throughout the summer.

Squirrel Corn, Dicentra canadensis

Close-up of flowering Dicentra canadensis plants, commonly known as Squirrel Corn, in a forest. This perennial herb displays delicate, fern-like foliage that forms a low mound beneath clusters of uniquely shaped flowers. The blooms are pale yellow and white, resembling small, inverted hearts with rounded lobes, giving them an endearing appearance.
This species, native to cool, moist northeastern forests, has rounded, heart-shaped flowers in white and yellow.

Commonly known as ‘squirrel corn,’ this species is native to cool, moist, mountainous forests of northeastern North America. It looks very similar to D. cucullaria, but the bulbous part of the flowers is more rounded and heart-shaped than the more sharply divided lobes of Dutchman’s breeches. Both species have white flowers and almost identical-looking leaves.

Turkey Corn, Dicentra eximia

Close-up of Dicentra eximia in bloom. This perennial herb boasts finely dissected, fern-like foliage that forms a lush mound. Arching stems rise above the foliage, adorned with dangling heart-shaped flowers in shades of pink or lavender.
Heart-shaped flowers in pink to burgundy and fern-like leaves are qualities of ‘Turkey Corn’.

‘Turkey Corn,’ also known as wild bleeding heart or fringed bleeding heart, is native to a smattering of eastern United States, particularly around the Appalachian Mountains region.

Its flowers are heart-shaped and range from pale pink to deep burgundy red. The leaves are dramatically fern-like and make a very appealing temporary vegetation until they go dormant in the summer heat.

Pacific Bleeding Heart, Dicentra formosa

Close-up of Dicentra formosa plants in flower in a garden. This herbaceous perennial features finely divided, fern-like foliage that forms a dense mound. Above the foliage, arching stems bear pendant clusters of unique, nodding, heart-shaped flowers in shades of pink or lavender.
Pacific bleeding heart thrives in cool woodlands, bearing nodding, pale pink, heart-shaped flowers from spring to summer.

The Pacific bleeding heart, also known as the western bleeding heart, is native to the Pacific Northwest. The plant grows in cool, damp woodlands and blooms anytime from spring through summer. The flowers are nodding, heart-shaped, and pale pink, adding a touch of springtime color to your Pacific shade garden

Komakusa, Dicentra peregrina

Close-up of a flowering Dicentra peregrina plant among the stones in the garden. This perennial herb showcases finely cut, fern-like foliage that forms a low, spreading mound. Rising above the foliage are slender stems bearing small, pendulous, soft pink flowers with distinctive spurs, creating an overall effect reminiscent of miniature, inverted hearts.
This Dicentra species has finely cut leaves and spectacular bright pink, heart-shaped flowers.

This spectacular species of Dicentra is native to Japan and surrounding East Asia regions. It has finely cut leaves and blooms in the springtime. The flowers are immensely showy, featuring bright pink, fused heart-shaped petals with dramatically upturned lower petal extensions. 

Wildlife Value

Close-up of a bee pollinating Dutchman's breeches flowers in a sunny garden. Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) showcases a distinctive and whimsical appearance. In early spring, slender, arching stems emerge, adorned with clusters of unique, white, and dangling flowers that notably resemble upside-down pantaloons. Each small bloom features two elongated spurs, adding to the charm of the display. The finely cut, fern-like foliage forms an attractive backdrop beneath the airy floral arrangement.
Dutchman’s breeches attract pollinators, birds, and small mammals, while deer and rabbits generally avoid them.

Dutchman’s breeches are visited by butterflies, bees, and other pollinators, making this a valuable early-season plant in a pollinator-friendly landscape. Ground-foraging birds and small mammals will eat the seeds, although this plant is not a primary food source for wildlife. Deer and rabbits tend to avoid it. 

Common Problems

These plants are generally trouble-free. They are generally not prone to pests or diseases. Keep an eye out for signs of insects and improper watering, just to stay proactive and give your plants the best care possible. 


Close-up of a thin stem affected by a swarm of aphids. Aphids are tiny pests that are light green in color. Characterized by pear-shaped bodies, aphids have long antennae and two tubular structures, known as cornicles, projecting from the rear of their abdomens.
The common pests for Dutchman’s breeches, aphids, can be dislodged with a water jet.

These common pests are typically more a nuisance than a serious danger. Aphids are small, soft-bodied insects that suck plant juices with tiny piercing mouthparts. You may see them in clusters on the leaves and stems.

If you do see them, aim a jet of water at them to dislodge them and disturb their feeding. This is often enough to discourage them from feeding on your garden plants.


Close-up of a flowering Dicentra cucullaria plant among dry autumn foliage in the forest. The plant features finely cut, fern-like leaves that form a low mound. Slender stems emerge, bearing clusters of distinct, white, and pendant flowers that resemble upside-down pantaloons.
Keep Dutchman’s breeches healthy by providing extra watering during dry conditions, even when dormant.

Dutchman’s breeches rely on moist soil to stay healthy. You can’t do anything to prevent drought conditions in the environment, but you can give your plant extra watering if the soil becomes very dry. Even after your plants go dormant, they still need moist soil conditions.


Close-up of flowering Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) in the garden. This plant has finely cut, fern-like leaves that create a low mound. The plant produces clusters of unique white flowers on slender pale pink stems. Resembling inverted pantaloons, these blooms hang delicately with two elongated spurs. Some of the flowers are withered and dry. A couple of seed pods grow on the stem.
Prevent root rot in Dutchman’s breeches by ensuring well-drained soil.

You can easily prevent root rot by providing well-drained soil. Although Dutchman’s breeches plants like moist soil, they don’t like to be kept wet. Plants grown in too-wet conditions will become soft and mushy and die completely. If your soil isn’t draining and your plants rot, you’ll probably need to start over in a different location with improved soil drainage. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Where can I find Dutchman’s breeches plants to grow?

It can be challenging to find these plants for sale. Your best bet will be to order them from a reputable nursery specializing in native plants. If you have a botanical garden, arboretum, or native plant society in your area, you can check to see if they have a list of recommended nurseries. Do not dig native wildflowers from the wild as this disturbs the natural environment and diminishes wild populations of these beautiful plants.

How long will my Dutchman’s breeches plants live?

Dutchman’s breeches plants are long-lived and will live for several years in ideal growing conditions. The above-ground part of their life cycle lasts only a couple of months, so you may not see them very much. Don’t worry, however, because plants growing in cool, moist soil will continue to live in a dormant state below ground. Even as individual plants may die, the tuber-like roots continue to multiply and form new plants.

Those root tubers look interesting, are they edible?

No. Do not eat any part of Dutchman’s breeches plants. All parts of this plant are toxic and no part should be consumed. In addition, the juices from this plant will cause mild skin irritation, so wear your gloves when handling it.

Final Thoughts

Even though they have a short blooming period, spring ephemeral perennial plants like Dutchman’s breeches have great value in the landscape. After a long winter, it’s a joy to see their fresh green foliage emerge and quickly produce dainty and very showy flowers.

These spring bloomers will enhance your woodland garden, wildflower collection, or native plant garden. Compliment them with other shade-loving native plants for a long season of beauty, variety, and colorful forms. Each spring, you can look forward to an early start to your growing season!

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