Dicentra canadensis (Squirrel Corn)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Fumariaceae (Fumitory)
Life cycle:perennial
  • State Special Concern
Habitat:part shade, shade; rich hardwood forest, rock outcrops
Bloom season:April - May
Plant height:6 to 12 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: irregular Cluster type: raceme

[photo of flowers] A raceme of 4 to 8 hanging, greenish-white heart-shaped flowers, about ¾ inch long and ½ inch wide, on slender stalks at the end of a naked stem rising above the leaves. At the base are a pair of small yellowish lobes that open up like wings, revealing the short stamens and a 2-horned stigma. A pair of long, vertical ruffles are at right angles to the wings. The stem may be erect but is typically leaning or arching.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: basal Leaf type: compound Leaf type: lobed

[photo of leaves] Leaves are basal, 1 or 2 per flowering stem, triangular in outline, 5 to 9 inches long and 2½ to 5 inches wide, thrice divided into lacy, narrowly oblong to linear segments. Surfaces are smooth, the underside with a powdery, waxy bloom. Stems are smooth and green to brown.


An inhabitant of the eastern hardwood forest, Dicentra canadensis seems to prefer rich soils with rocky outcrops. The deep ravines and river valleys of Minnesota's southeast counties represent the extreme northwest extent of Squirrel Corn's North American range. It is by no means common in that area. According to the DNR, it is now most at risk from invasive species, earthworms in particular, and was listed as a Special Concern species in 1984. Gardeners will instantly recognize its family relationship to the larger pink bleeding-heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis, formerly Dicentra spectabilis) which is native to Asia. It is also very similar to the native Dicentra cucullaria or Dutchman's breeches, with which it often grows side-by-side. The foliage is nearly identical but Dutchman's Breeches blooms earlier and its flower is less heart-shaped, but like inflated pantaloons of Dutch tradition.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka and Peter M. Dziuk taken at Frontenac State Park, Goodhue County.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Tom - New Ulm, Brown County
on: 2014-05-04 17:46:08

We live on the Minnesota river and have several large patches growing in our shady areas. Seems to be doing very well.

Posted by: Tom
on: 2014-05-04 18:16:51

Sorry, upon second look, not Squirrel Corn but Dutchman's Breeches.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2014-05-04 19:57:03

Easy mistake to make, Tom. Squirrel corn has distinctly round spurs and the whole flower looks much more heart-shaped than Dutchman's breeches, which has more pointed spurs.

Posted by: Britny - Edina
on: 2017-05-20 06:43:00

I have a few of these plants growing in my backyard. Is there anything particular I can do to encourage growth? Or possibly share with friends?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2017-05-20 07:07:40

Britny, unless you planted them, it's more likely you also have Dutchman's breeches in your yard rather than squirrel corn.

Posted by: Britny - Minneapolis
on: 2017-05-20 19:01:10

We are new to the home and are blessed to have stumbled upon a well developed yard. It's very likely the previous owner planted them as the tops are definitely heart shaped and not like those of Dutchman's breeches. I am enjoying learning several dozen other flowers that are new to me, including a collection of trillium.

Posted by: Cathy - Western suburbs
on: 2020-05-06 07:41:02

A master gardener told me these are toxic. What can I use to eradicate it?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2020-05-06 16:10:32

Cathy, many plants have toxic qualities. That doesn't mean you can't love them in your garden - I love the Dutchman's breeches in my yard and wish I had more. Just don't eat them and you'll be fine.

Posted by: Susan Keller - south Mpls and Itasca Co.
on: 2020-06-04 09:44:12

Please see the comment by Cathy above, posted on 5/6/2020. She wants to know how to eradicate her dicentra. Could you discuss that many parts of plants are toxic, but they should not be eradicated. I noted that this plant is of Special Concern. Maybe she could move them out of her yard or donate them to a nature center. Or learn more about toxicity and choose not to do either. Thanks for your attention to this worrisome post.

Posted by: Michelle - south of Northfield
on: 2020-08-16 19:35:06

I have Squirrel Corn in my yard. It grows wild. I know that it is definitely not Dutchmen's Breeches. As "State special concern" - should I report it to someone?

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2020-08-16 19:43:28

Michelle, you would need a positive ID first, and confirmation it is a naturally occurring population. I suggest posting some photos on the Minnesota Wildflowers Facebook page to start.

Posted by: Susan Premo - Whitewater wildlife state management unit
on: 2021-04-24 19:20:56

Just saw a couple of plants while walking in our secret favorite area, mistaken at first by the dutchmens breeches, but with the picture I took, when we got home, we looked it up a bit more, and realized it had no spurs, and a bit more heart shaped flower. So full of flowers right now, when we go back later, early summer, there are so many more tall plants, like nettles and burdock, but right now and a few more weeks, it's so beautiful. A great creek runs through there, I wish we knew the name of it.

Posted by: Alan Straka - Cascade Township
on: 2022-05-06 13:10:33

I have both canadensis and cucullaria in my yard. It seems to me the foliage on canadensis is a bit courser than cucullaria and the flowers lack any yellow. The foliage difference isn't enough to differentiate them unless they are side by side. Does anyone know if the two species hybridize?

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