Dutchman’s Breeches
The name is enigmatic – the quote in the OED suggests that the shape of the flowers is responsible; but also that the phrase Dutchman’s Breeches can mean “the patch of blue sky often seen when a gale is breaking.” Apparently, that usage is still current in Pennsylvania.
Like many other plants, including Bloodroot, Dicentra is chock full of vegetable akaloids, those poisonous or efficacious bitter bases like morphine, nicotine, strychnine, and quinine, and my favorite, caffeine.
When Doctor Watson is first told of Sherlock Holmes, their mutual friend mentions the great detective’s affinity for the chemicals, saying:
– Dicentra cucularia
Holmes is a little too scientific for my tastes – it approaches to cold-bloodedness. I could imagine his giving a friend a little pinch of the latest vegetable alkaloid, not out of malevolence, you understand, but simply out of a spirit of inquiry in order to have an accurate idea of the effects.
For specifics on the poisonous and opiate-esque qualities of Dicentra, see this page, from the UPenn Veterinary Medicine School’s Poisonous Plants Site.
Dutchman’s Breeches
Thursday, April 27, 2006