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Dutchman’s Breeches Flowering

5-6-16 Dutchman's Breeches IMG_9223

How incongruous that a spring ephemeral as beautiful as Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) is extremely debilitating to any cow that eats it.  The most common bovine symptom of poisoning by Dutchman’s Breeches is a staggering gait (it’s referred to as “staggerweed” by some farmers) and a decrease in milk production.  However, according to the Veterinary Medicine Library at the University of Illinois, there are far more severe symptoms. “Experimental feeding of these plants to steers caused sudden trembling which increased in severity, frothing of the mouth, ejection of partially digested stomach contents, and convulsions. The eyes became glassy, and the animals went down and moaned as if in pain.”  Certainly this is a plant one should admire and experience visually, not gastronomically.

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19 responses

  1. Alice Pratt

    And the poor bovines have no clue what is causing these symptons…..I thought animals instintively “know” which foods not to munch on. How long do these symtoms last?

    May 2, 2016 at 7:29 am

    • I’m afraid I have no idea how long the symptoms last. Sorry!

      May 2, 2016 at 8:16 am

  2. Alice Pratt

    😕 “Symptoms”

    May 2, 2016 at 7:32 am

  3. Cheron barton

    Think this is a cousin to bleeding heart??

    Sent from my iPhone


    May 2, 2016 at 7:33 am

    • Yes, it is!

      May 2, 2016 at 8:15 am

    • Hi Cheron, Dutchman’s Breeches is related to the wildBleeding Heart, Dicentra exima, but is in a different genus from the popular Japanese species of Bleeding Heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) that you may have been referring to.

      May 2, 2016 at 9:39 am

  4. Alice Pratt

    😕 Symptoms

    May 2, 2016 at 8:00 am

  5. Michael Braonerd

    Interesting. Perhaps somebody should submit that info to Wikipedia.

    May 2, 2016 at 8:36 am

  6. Michael Braonerd

    What about related plants, like Bleeding Heart?

    May 2, 2016 at 8:39 am

    • I do not know whether wild Bleeding Heart (Dicentra exima) or the cultivated Bleeding Heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) are toxic.

      May 2, 2016 at 9:43 am

  7. Good thing livestock don’t tend to frequent the cliffs and rock cuts where it often grows!

    May 2, 2016 at 9:32 am

  8. Exactly!

    May 2, 2016 at 9:47 am

  9. mariagianferrari

    What an apt name! Are they in the orchid family? (pardon my ignorance!)

    May 2, 2016 at 10:14 am

    • They are actually in the poppy family, Papaveraceae.

      May 2, 2016 at 11:18 am

  10. Jon Binhammmer

    Poppy family – hence the toxicity, ala opium poppy or many others in that family.

    May 2, 2016 at 2:33 pm

  11. I love this flower so much, your photo is excellent, Mary. I feel badly for those poor, unfortunate bovines. 😦

    May 2, 2016 at 3:45 pm

  12. Nancy Baker

    Mary, About 5 years ago in mid-June, I noticed a meadow jumping mouse running in circles on a large flagstone behind our house. I could stand directly above it to observe.. it took no notice of me. It circled the perimeter of the stone (perhaps 36″ in diameter) as fast as it could go, jumping at times but more often running, always counter-clockwise, traveling so fast it sometimes fell over onto it’s side for a moment, before righting itself and continuing. It ran for more than 30 minutes, hemmed-in by the surrounding low ridge of mosses and leaf litter. My biologist husband and I finally surmised that it had been eating the corms of the Dutchman’s breeches growing around the stone…. the “active” ingredient, as you noted, is an alkaloid, related to equally active others from the poppy family.

    May 2, 2016 at 7:24 pm

  13. mariagianferrari

    I see–very interesting!!

    May 5, 2016 at 9:38 am

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