Dicentra cucullaria

Dicentra cucullaria

The Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria (L.) Bernh.) Is a herbaceous species belonging to the Papaveraceae family.

Systematics –
From the systematic point of view it belongs to the Eukaryota Domain, Kingdom Plantae, Magnoliophyta Division, Magnoliopsida Class, Papaverales Order, Papaveraceae Family and therefore to the Dicentra Genus and to the D. cucullaria Species.

Etymology –
The term Dicentra comes from the Greek δις dis twice and from κέντρον céntron Sperone: for sepals that extend into two long spurs.
The specific cucullaria epithet is of Greek origin with the meaning of hooded, referring to the shape of the flower.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Dicentra cucullaria is a perennial herbaceous plant, native to the woods of eastern North America and with a disjoint population in the Columbia basin from Nova Scotia to North Carolina and from west to Kansas.
Its habitat is characterized by dense deciduous mountain forests and clearings, on clay-rich soils, from sea level to 1500 meters.

Description –
Dicentra cucullaria is a perennial plant that can grow to 12 – 15 cm in height. It is a plant characterized by shrubs that do not exceed 15 centimeters in height, and by divided leaves, very similar to those of Ferns.
It has pale green leaves measuring 10-36 cm in length and 4-18 cm in width, with a 5-24 cm long petiole; the leaves are trifoliate with finely divided leaflets.
The flowers are heart-shaped, usually white, rarely tinged with pink, 1–2 cm long. They form in early spring in racemes of 3 to 14 flowers on 12–25 cm long stems. Unlike Dicentra canadensis, with which it is closely related, the flowers lack fragrance.
The pistil of a flower, after pollination, develops into a thin pod of 7–16 mm in length and 3-5 mm, narrowed to a point on both ends. The capsule splits in half when the seeds are ripe. The seeds are kidney-shaped, with a weak lattice. Each has a fleshy organ called the elaiosome that attracts ants.

Cultivation –
Dicentra cucullaria is a plant that grows spontaneously but can be easily cultivated in a rich and light soil, preferably with a neutral to slightly acidic pH. It also prefers light shade and a sheltered position but develops well even with a more intense shade.
Plants are hardy to at least -20 ° C.
The seed is difficult to collect, it matures and falls off the plant very quickly and the plant goes dormant in the summer.
After fruit set, Dicentra cucullaria bulbs remain dormant until autumn, when the stored starch is converted into sugar. Also in this period flower buds and leaf beginnings are produced underground; these then remain dormant until spring.
Dicentra cucullaria, given its rather small size, is perfectly suited to cultivation in rock gardens.
The seeds of this plant are spread by ants, a process called myrmecoria. The ants carry the seeds to their nest, where they eat the elaiosomes, and place the seeds in the nest debris, where they are protected until they germinate. These also have the advantage of growing in a medium made richer by anthill debris.
Artificial propagation can be done by storing the seed as soon as it is ripe in an unheated warehouse.
The stored seed should be sown in early spring. Germination usually takes place within 1 – 6 months at 15 ° C. With two weeks of warm stratification at 18 ° C, followed by six weeks at 2 ° C, germination times can be shortened.
Another propagation system is to use the larger clumps of the plant which can be replanted directly into their permanent locations, although it is best to arrange the smaller clumps and grow them in a cold greenhouse until they take root well, to then transplant them in the spring.

Customs and Traditions –
Dicentra cucullaria is a plant that is collected in nature for local use as a medicine.
No particular food uses are known.
In the medical field it is instead an alterative and tonic plant.
Native Americans and early white settlers considered this plant useful for syphilis and skin diseases and as a blood purifier. This plant contains several alkaloids that can affect the brain and heart, however D. cucullaria can be toxic and cause contact dermatitis in some people.
Dried tubers have been used as a tonic and have been recommended in some treatments.
From the roots is made a tea that is diaphoretic and diuretic.
From the leaves you can get a poultice that is used in the treatment of skin disorders and as a muscle rubbing to make them more agile.
The plant contains an alkaloid that depresses the central nervous system – and is used in the treatment of paralysis and tremors.
The plant contains a hallucinogenic compound for livestock.
From an ecological point of view this plant is linked to the presence of bumblebees, in particular Bombus bimaculatus, a common eastern North American species, which provide for cross-pollination.The structure of the flower and the mechanism by which they are pollinated has adapted to the bumblebees, which can separate the outer and inner petals of the flower. These use their forelegs to expose the stigma, stamen and anthers. Shortly thereafter, they sweep the pollen forward with a forward sweep using their center legs, before leaving the flower to return to the colony with the pollen. In this way D. cucullaria is pollinated as these pollinators move from one plant to another and meet their dietary needs.

Preparation Method –
The Dutchman’s breeches, as said, is employed in the medical field, using both leaves and tubers.
The tubers can be dried to make a tonic product and are recommended in some treatments.
From the roots, a tea with diapetic and diuretics properties can be prepared.
Finally, a poultice can be obtained from the leaves which is used in the treatment of skin disorders and as an ointment to make muscles more agile.

Guido Bissanti

– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– Useful Tropical Plants Database.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (ed.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora d’Italia, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.

Warning: Pharmaceutical applications and alimurgical uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not represent in any way a medical prescription; therefore no responsibility is taken for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.

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