Adirondack wildflowers: Dutchman’s breeches

Dutchman's breeches on Baker Mountain. Photo by Phil Brown.
Dutchman’s breeches on Baker Mountain. Photo by Phil Brown.

In this age of climate change, it’s nice to know that April showers still bring May flowers.

This afternoon, I took my customary jaunt up Baker Mountain and found many wildflowers in bloom,  including spring beauty, trout lily, red trillium, saxifrage, yellow violets, and Dutchman’s breeches.

Spring beauty. Photo by Phil Brown.
Spring beauty. Photo by Phil Brown.

I am always amused by the last flower—both its name the shape that inspired it. They look like tiny pantaloons hung on the line to dry.

Dutchman’s breeches bloom in early spring. In Trailside Notes: A Naturalist’s Companion to Adirondack Plants, Ruth Schottman notes that the plant’s fernlike leaves photosynthesize food in the weeks before trees bring forth foliage.

Ants help with the flower’s reproduction. Schottman says the seeds have a nutritious appendage called an aril. An ant will drag a seed to its nest to eat the aril. After its meal, the ant will leave the seed in the nest debris, where it takes advantage of the fertile ground to sprout.

We don’t recommend eating Dutchman’s breeches, not that you would think of such a thing. The flowers have made grazing cattle act drunk, giving rise to another nickname: staggerweed.

But enough of my words. You should be out in the woods seeing these and other flowers for yourself. May won’t last forever.

About Phil Brown

Phil Brown edited the Adirondack Explorer from 1999 until his retirement in 2018. He continues to explore the park and to write for the publication and website.

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