Dicentra canadensis

Native, slightly fragrant spring ephemeral bearing heart-shaped flowers

Dicentra canadensis squirrelcorn

Plant grows in the wild/spontaneouslyPlant is native to PA

This delicate native perennial is similar to Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) and is often mistaken for that related species. Both plants belong to the papaveraceae family. Both are spring ephemeral plants that bloom early and die back by midsummer. Squirrelcorn normally blooms about one week later than Dutchman’s breeches, but often they are in the flowering stage at the same time.

The flowers of squirrelcorn are also more heart-shaped than those of Dutchman's breeches and lack the lower yellow tip of Dutchman’s breeches. The two upper spurs are also shorter and more rounded than those of D. cucullaria. At the base of the flower is a pair of small lobes that open like wings to reveal the short stamens and a stigma. A pair of long, vertical ruffles are at right angles to the wings. Squirrelcorn is also slightly fragrant, having a scent similar to the hyacinth.

Both squirrelcorn and Dutchman’s breeches grow in rich hardwood forests. Squirrelcorn has a shape similar to the wild bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia) but does not have the pink or red coloration, though it may have a faint lavender or pink tint. The flowers grow in clusters of 3-10, hanging from a smooth stem held above the leaves. Most colonies of squirrelcorn are found on north-facing slopes.

Its common name comes from the underground tubers that resemble grains of yellow corn. Mice and chipmunks are adept at transplanting the tubers and helping spread the plant. Ants also help distribute the seeds, rewarded by a nutritious elaisome appendage.

The one or two basal leaves are compound with three leaflets and much divided. Squirrelcorn is pollinated by bumblebees and has nectar stolen by bees that bite through the flower membrane. Squirrelcorn grows to a height of 6-12 inches and is found throughout northeastern and north-central United States. Both squirrelcorn and Dutchman’s breeches are poisonous to grazing cattle but seldom grow where they graze. Squirrelcorn has become rare and threatened in some states.

Contributed by: Mark Welchley

Frequent in moist, rich woods.

Present throughout the state.

Range: Found throughout northeastern and northcentral United States.

Wetland code: Not classified

Flowers April through May.

S-rank:  No rank
G-rank:  G5 (Secure)