Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Love 'em and Leave 'em
Nature Bulletin No. 113   April 26, 1947
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
William N. Erickson, President
Roberts Mann, Supt. of Conservation

Two of the earliest and most interesting wildflowers are the bloodroot and the Dutchman's breeches. The few places where they can be found in Cook County are on wooded slopes with moist rich soil, usually in a ravine. Dutchman's breeches seems to prefer a slope facing north or east, and with it you will also find bloodroot. Both like partial shade, but bloodroot frequently grows where Dutchman's breeches do not.

The bloodroot blooms first. The flower stalk first appears with a leaf tightly wrapped around it below the large bud, like a green pencil. On a warm sunny day the bud unfolds into a big white flower with eight or more petals and bright yellow stamens at the center. On a cold cloudy day it will fold up again. The leaves are big and broad, deeply lobed, with a network of veins. The plant gets its name from the thick fleshy horizontal root which, when cut, bleeds a bright-red acrid juice used by the Indians for war paint and by the pioneers for dyes and cough syrup.

The Dutchman's breeches has several nodding flowers on a slender stalk. These flowers, white or pinkish, resemble the baggy trousers worn in Holland -- hung upside down. The plant has many pale-green finely-divided feathery leaves and a granular bulb. The fruit is an oblong pod which apparently snaps the seed some distance away when it pops open. After seeding, the leaves die down and the plant disappears until next spring. Apparently the flowers are pollinated only by the queen bumblebee when she emerges from hibernation -- the only one of her hive to survive -- and goes bumbling about, searching with her long tongue for nectar in the early spring flowers.

These and other beautiful wildflowers have become uncommon or disappeared because people pick them or dig them up for transplanting in spite of stringent laws and forest preserve ordinances protecting them. Many wildflowers are annuals that propagate only from seed and disappear if the flowers are picked. Few of them survive when transplanted, requiring peculiar conditions of soil, soil bacteria, moisture and shade which are rarely duplicated in the home garden. Wildflowers are much more beautiful in the woods where they belong and where everyone can enjoy them.

Love 'em and leave 'em.

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