The Queen Bee and the Dutchman’s Breeches

The season of spring ephemerals is in the brief moment between the early thaw of spring and the moment in which the trees unfurl their leaves.  The Dutchman’s breeches is one of these woodland species that takes advantage of this window of opportunity when there is abundant sunlight on the forest floor and the days are warm enough for native pollinators to take flight.  The peculiarly shaped white flowers are reminiscent of the breeches or pantaloons that the early Dutch would hang to dry on a clothesline.

Dutchman's Breeches a favorite of the queen bumblebee.
Dutchman’s Breeches a favorite of the queen bumblebee.

In the Hudson Valley, Dutchman’s Breeches are abundant in the 251 acre Franny Reese State Park on the Highland side of the Hudson River.  Also look for, Bloodroot and Mayapple two other native ephemerals.  Most recently I had the opportunity to watch a queen bumble bee at work drinking nectar from a Dutchman and was finally successful in getting some good photos as seen in this article.   When you find an area rich in this plant, take a moment to watch and it won’t be long and you can also observe a queen bumble bee at work pollinating this flower.

Bumblebee pollinating the Dutchman Breeches
Bumblebee pollinating the Dutchman Breeches

In April, after a long winter of hibernation, the hungry queen bumble bee sets out on a solitary mission to find a place to start a new hive.  The Dutchman’s breeches full of nectar and pollen are a welcome treat to any bee with the ability to acquire it.    The queen bumble bee is a perfect match to this early spring bloom as she is able to fly in the cool weather of spring, strong enough to pry open the inner hinged petals and has a tongue (proboscis) long enough to reach the nectar deep within the pantaloon blooms.  Any bumble bee observed in the early spring is undoubtedly a queen bumble bee and she does all her own work including rearing her first brood of workers who will then take over the day-to-day responsibilities of foraging.

Photo by Tim Stanley
A bee’s eye view

New generations of worker bumble bees emerge as the spring ephemerals fade and disappear beneath the darkening shade of the forest canopy.  The smaller worker bees are less adept at navigating the complexities of the Dutchman breeches.  They are better suited to forage in bright meadows and sunny hedgerows where an endless of parade of flowers will bloom until the last aster of autumn.   In Mother Nature’s grand design the Dutchman’s breeches and the queen bumble bee are paired like pieces to a puzzle.

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Additional Resources and References: 

Gracie, Carol (2012).  Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast: A Natural History

National Park Service – www.nps.gov/shen/naturescience/dutchmans_breeches.htm

Restoring the Landscape – www.restoringthelandscape.com/2013/06/pollination-of-dutchmans-breeches-royal.html

 

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