This article takes us a little farther from our Lower Kootenay River Drainage, south to the drainage of the South Fork of the Walla Walla River, near Walla Walla, Washington. There, in early April, if you are hiking and snooping out flowers along the South Fork, you may spot the rather unique Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria). There appears to be no published records of it being found in the wild in British Columbia, let alone the Kootenay Lake Drainage, however it is apparently found in Latah County in the Idaho Panhandle and in Northern Washington State. I hear that a very small colony is found in the Okanagan Valley. What is relevant is that it could be somewhere and, perhaps already seen, in the Kootenay Lake District (Creston Area) because the Kootenay Lake Drainage is in direct line with the Idaho Panhandle – with no mountain barriers between. It just hasn’t been publicly recorded. Just because we haven’t found something, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
Most plants are unique in some way but, like Dutchman’s Breeches, in their own respect. Our subject plant has a unique flower shape that, as you may know, resembles a pair of breeches – white ones, at that. This plant is in the same family as the wild ‘bleeding-heart”(Dicentra formosa), with similar sometimes bluish-green delicate leaves supported by soft stems. It grows from 8 to 10 inches in height and is often found growing in rich, humusy soil, in dappled shade, along or not too far from creeks, small watercourses or seepages. Generally, Dutchman’s Breeches is said to be found in isolated pockets in the Columbia Basin, of which Kootenay Lake is part of.
Other relatives, besides wild bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa – Pacific Coast valleys), found in the Kootenay Lake/River drainage are the uncommon “Yellow Corydalus (Corydalus aurea) and Pale Corydalus (C. sempervirens)”, which has pink flowers with yellow tips. All have unusually shaped flowers.
Another interesting aspect in the life of Dutchman’s Breeches is that the seeds, like quite a few plants, attract ants. Attracted to a soft, fleshy part on the seed, the ants will transport the seeds to their nest where they eat the soft fleshy part and leave the seed with the rest of the nest debris. The seeds are said to sometimes germinate in the nutrient-rich, ant nest debris producing plants that in turn produce more delicacies for the ants. (I would think that the ants would occasionally need to do a little “logging”, cutting down a few “trees” to open the nest to some light.)
Have you seen Dutchman’s Breeches in the wild, in the Kootenay River area?
Perhaps you may have an opportunity to pick up on the “rest of the story”. We pride ourselves in what we know of what’s out there, but how much do we really know of what goes on out there?