Dicentra Cucullaria (L ) Bernh.—Dutchman's breeches
Dicentra canadensis (Goldie) Walp.—Squirrel-corn
Dicentra eximia (Ker) Torr. - Bleeding heart
FAMILY: Fumariaceae—the Fumitory Family
Flowers are perfect, 2-nerved, bilaterally symmetrical; sepals: 2, falling early from the flower; petals: 4, 2 outer and 2 inner; outer 2 petals fused at base, free at the ends, one or both forming basal sacs; inner 2 petals slender at base, fused over the stigma at apex; stamens: 6; leaves: glabrous, herbaceous decompound or dissected; stems: watery, juice apparent when crushed.
PHENOLOGY: Dutchman's breeches and squirrel-corn flower in spring, usually April to May. Bleeding heart flowers in early summer, June to July.
DISTRIBUTION: Dutchman's breeches and squirrel-corn are found throughout the state in rich moist woods. Bleeding heart can be found in dry or moist woods in the Commonwealth and is an "old time favorite" garden plant.
PLANT CHARACTERISTICS: Refer to the family characteristics for a general description of Dicentra. Dutchman's breeches and squirrel-corn have flowers in racemes; in bleeding heart the inflorescence is a panicle. In D. Cucullaria the outer petal sacs form divergent spurs, whereas in D. canadensis the spurs are rounded.
POISONOUS PARTS: All parts of these plants are poisonous, especially underground tubers.
SYMPTOMS: Only D. Cucullaria has been shown (experimentally) to be poisonous, at 2% of the animal's weight. Both aerial and underground portions of the plant produced symptoms within a day although these amounts were not fatal. Behavior of poisoned animals included trembling and running wildly with head held unusually high. Salivation, violent vomiting, and convulsions also were present. Shortly after the onset of symptoms, the animals fell with the head held in the position described, legs rigidly extended; and breathing labored. In one case of experimental feeding the animals could stand, although weakly, within 20 minutes after going down, and recovery was rapid and complete. Postmortem: gross and histological lesions: nonspecific.
It may be important to determine the species of Dicentra ingested in poison cases since D. canadensis failed to elicit symptoms when fed to livestock in amounts equivalent to 2 or 3% of the animal's weight, despite the presence of poisonous alkaloids in the plant.
POISONOUS PRINCIPLES: Aporphine, protoberberine, protopine, and related isoquinoline alkaloids are apparently responsible for toxicosis. More than twenty compounds structurally related to poppy alkaloids have been extracted, identified, and named from various species of Dicentra. The alkaloids cularine and several of its 0- and N- desmethyl derivatives also are present in leaves and bulbs.
CONFUSED TAXA: Corydalis is one of the few taxa that can be confused with Dicentra. A close relative whose leaves resemble those of Dicentra, it has only one sac per flower. Of the Pennsylvania species of Corydalis, both C. aurea Wild and C. flavula DC have been suspected of causing livestock loss and should be considered potentially dangerous.
ANIMAL SPECIES AFFECTED: Probably all livestock and humans.
TREATMENT: (11a) (b); (26)
OF INTEREST: These plants have been used in folk medicine to treat a variety of ailments.