Gateway to the Classics: Wild-Flower Study by Anna Botsford Comstock
Wild-Flower Study by  Anna Botsford Comstock


Dutchman's breeches, or "boys and girls."

Photo by O. L. Foster.

Dutchman's Breeches and Squirrel Corn

Teacher's Story

"In a gymnasium where things grow,

Jolly boys and girls in a row,

Hanging down from cross-bar stem

Builded purposely for them.

Stout little legs up in the air,

Kick at the breeze as it passes there;

Dizzy heads in collars wide

Look at the world from the underside;

Happy acrobats a-swing,

At the woodside show in early spring."

A. B. C.

"And toward the sun, which kindlier burns,

The earth awaking, looks and yearns,

And still, as in all other Aprils,

The annual miracle returns."

Elizabeth Akers.

There are many beautiful carpets spread before the feet of advancing spring, but perhaps none of them are so delicate in pattern as those woven by these two plants that spread their fernlike leaves in April and May. There is little difference in the foliage of the two; both are delicate green and lacelike above, and pale, bluish green on the underside. And each leaf, although so finely divided, is, after all, quite simple; for it has three chief divisions, and these in turn are divided into three, and all the leaves come directly from the root and not from stems. These plants love the woodlands, and by spreading their green leaves early, before the trees are in foliage, they have the advantage of the spring sunshine. Thus they make their food for maturing their seeds, and also store some of it in their roots for use early the following spring. By midsummer the leaves have entirely disappeared, and another carpet is spread in the place which they once covered.

Dutchman's breeches and squirrel corn resemble each other so closely that they are often confused; however, they are quite different in form; the "legs" of the Dutchman's breeches are quite long and spread wide apart, while the blossoms of the squirrel corn are rounded bags instead of "legs." The roots of the two are quite different. The Dutchman's breeches grows from a little bulb made up of grayish scales, while the squirrel corn develops from a round, yellow tuber; these yellow, kernel-like tubers are scattered along the roots, each capable of developing a plant next year. The Dutchman's breeches likes thin woodlands and rocky hillsides, but the squirrel corn prefers rich, moist woods. The blossom of the Dutchman's breeches comes the earlier of the two. These flowers are white with yellow tips, and are not fragrant. The flowers of the squirrel corn are grayish with a tinge of magenta, and are fragrant.


The underground store-house of Dutchman's breeches.

The legs of the Dutchman's breeches are nectar pockets with tubes leading to them, and are formed by two petals. Opposite these two petals are two others more or less spoon-shaped, with the spoon bowls united to protect the anthers and stigma. There are two little sepals which are scalelike.


Seed capsule of squirrel corn.

The seed capsule of the Dutchman's breeches is a long pod with a slender, pointed end, and it opens lengthwise. The seed capsules of the squirrel corn are similar and I have found in one capsule, 12 seeds, which were shaped like little kernels of corn, black in color and polished like patent leather.


Squirrel corn.

Lesson CXXI

Dutchman's Breeches and Squirrel Corn

Leading thought—The Dutchman's breeches, or "boys and girls," as it is often called, is one of the earliest flowers of rich woodlands. There are interesting differences between this flower and its close relative, squirrel corn. The flowers of both of these resemble in structure the flowers of the bleeding heart.

Method—As the Dutchman's breeches blossoms in April and May and the squirrel corn in May and June, we naturally study the former first and compare the latter with it in form and in habits. The questions should be given the pupils, for them to answer for themselves during their spring walks in the woodlands.


1. Where do you find Dutchman's breeches? Which do you prefer to call these flowers, Dutchman's breeches or boys and girls? Are there leaves on the trees when these flowers are in bloom?

2. Which blossoms earlier in the season, Dutchman's breeches or squirrel corn? How do the flowers of the two differ in shape? In odor?

3. In the flower of the Dutchman's breeches find two petals which protect the nectar. How do they look? What part do they form of the breeches? Find two other petals which protect the pollen and stigma.

4. Find the two sepals. How many bracts do you find on the flower stem?

5. What insects visit these flowers? Describe how they get the nectar.

6. What sort of root has the Dutchman's breeches? What is the difference between its root and that of the squirrel corn? Have you ever seen squirrels harvesting squirrel corn? What is the purpose of the kernels of the squirrel corn?

7. Study the leaf. How many main parts are there to it? How are these parts divided? Does the leaf come straight from the root or from a stem? What is the color of the leaf above? Below? Can you distinguish the leaves of the Dutchman's breeches from those of the squirrel corn?

8. Describe the seed capsule of Dutchman's breeches. How does it open? How many seeds has it? Compare this with the fruit of squirrel corn and describe the difference.

9. What happens to the leaves of these two plants late in summer? How do the plants manage to get enough sunlight to make food to mature their seed? What preparations have they made for early blossoming the next spring?

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