Monday, 12 October 2009

Breeches or Britches

Let me introduce you to Dicentra cucullaria, better known as "Dutchman's Breeches". Although as you can see from the title, there has been some controversy among Americans as to whether it should be "breeches" or "britches" -- some felt that "breeches" was much too British! However, for the sake of this posting, I will stay with the more popular "breeches".

The name "Dutchman's Breeches" seems a bit strange to me so I tried to discover the origin. "Breeches" was easy enough as the flowers do look a bit like pants hanging upside down, but why "Dutchman's"? I never found a satisfactory answer -- I suppose that maybe the men who immigrated from Holland in the early days of the settlement of North American wore loose fitting white trousers. If any of you know the real answer, please let me know and I will pass it along.

One of the more interesting things about this plant is that it is one of many plants whose seeds are spread by ants! The seeds have a fleshy organ called an elaiosome that attracts ants. The ants take the seeds to their nest where they eat the elaisomes and put the seeds in their nest debris where they are protected until they germinate. Fascinating.

Native peoples used the plant for skin conditions and as a blood purifier. Early Europeans considered this plant useful for syphilis. No comment.

This next plant has a very long name: Lewisia longipetala x cotyledon "Little Plum"! I think I will just stick with L. longipetala.

This plant has an interesting history. In 1875 the first wild species of L. longipetala was collected by an American amateur botanist who had gone out west to the Pacific coast. However, the species was confined to such a small area that it was "lost" and not rediscovered until 1967! Unfortunately, the wild population is now in steady decline due to the ongoing development of recreation trails and ski resorts.

The flowers I have drawn above were discovered in a garden in Scotland as a random garden hybrid and named "Little Plum". How they got to Scotland is a mystery. When the seeds were released to the public in the year 2000, they became a instant hit with gardeners. I think they are lovely flowers but, sadly, I cannot show the true nature of the petals which have a rather fragile look about them with all those pink "veins" running through them. The limitations of my software is evident once again.

I hope all the Canadians reading this had a Happy Thanksgiving today. Now the poor turkeys can breathe a bit more easily for a while!

May peace be with you all.

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