Dicentra cucullaria is a perennial, ca 10 cm tall; spring ephemeral; vegetative reproduction from short rhizome covered by small tear-shaped bulblets, often red, showing above soil.
Leaves basal from bulb, stalks elongate, often pinkish, 2 per flowering stem, more or less three-parted, splitting into many narrow segments, surface dull blue-green, underside silvery; appearing March-April, dying back in early summer, soon after canopy closure.
Flowers white with yellowish markings near base, bilaterally symmetric, producing nectar, flowers nodding, petals 4, outer 2 to 1.5 cm long, base inflated pointing upwards and out like blunt horns, 2 inner petals to 1 cm long, fused around floral organs, stamens 6, ovary superior (Yatskievych 2006); inflorescence arising directly from bulbs, a small spike-like cluster; self-incompatible, visited by bees (Bierzychudek 1982; Schemske et al. 1978), pollinated mostly by bumblebee queens (Macior 1970); blooming April-May.
Fruit dry, a narrow capsule; seeds with fleshy attachment (aril), ant dispersed; ants probably including genera: Aphaenogaster (A. rudis), Myrmica, Formica and Lasius (Thompson 1980; Handel et al. 1981).
Wetland status: UPL.
Frequency in NYC: Infrequent.
Habitat: Undisturbed, moist forests.
Notes: Requires at least 120 days of cold before growth will begin in the Spring (Risser and Cottam 1967). Spring ephemerals take up soil nutrients, especially nitrogen, in early spring. Some nutrients are sequestered in bulbs or roots but some are released back into soil when leaves and flowers decompose, just as tree and summer herbs are expanding their leaves (Peterson and Rolf 1982). Contains isoquinoline alkaloids that are somewhat toxic (Kingsbury 1964). The closely related, very similar species D. canadensis requires at least 0.5% sunlight to survive (compensation point) and cannot use more than 30% sunlight (saturation point) (Hicks and Chabot 1985).