The nectar is sweet, but the leaves and flowers of Dutchman’s Breeches are full of toxic alkaloids related to opium or morphine. It’s pretty to look at, but could be lethal if eaten.
Dutchman’s Breeches flowers early in the spring, about the time that the queen bumblebees emerge from their winter lethargy. Flying low to the ground, bumblebees seek out these sources of early nectar by grasping onto the bottom of the flower (which is actually the top of the breeches, since they are hanging upside down) and pushing their head and long tongues into the pantaloons where the nectar is located. Only the larger and longer-tongued bees can reach the nectar source; honeybees and other, smaller bees are excluded.
As the bumblebees retract their head from the flower, pollen is deposited on their head and back, thus serving as a pollination source for the next flower visited.
As occurs in other spring woodland plants, ants play an important role in transporting the seeds of Dutchman’s Breeches to new locations in the forest. Using this strategy of “myrmecochory” (literally, myrmeco = ant; chory = dispersal), the plant packages its seeds with a nice fatty treat for the ants who cart it off to their nests, eat the lipid-rich elaiosome attached to the seed, and then “discard” (or “plant”) the seed in their refuse pile.
Another fascinating tale of cooperation between the bugs and the plants.