Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Wildflower Wednesday: Corydalis flavula

Our Wildflower Wednesday star is a delicate and inconspicuous beauty that blooms early and disappears completely by mid-summer. It is easily overlooked in the decaying leaves of the forested woodland where it thrives. I think you'll be as excited as I was to discover it growing so near my own garden.

It's been on my want list for years. There's now a small clump in my garden thanks to the generosity of my son who found some growing on the slope in his way back backyard. The leaves look a lot like Dutchman's Breeches and it wasn't until the yellow blooms opened that we were sure of its id.  

Yellow fumewort has been described as a small sprawling annual. Indeed, it was sprawling all over his yard on a slope with years of decaying leaves and fabulous drainage. It appears to be happiest in floodplains, woodlands, ridges and ravines, but, I've seen it on a dusty trail in a local natural area.   Some sites list its habitat as being sparse with no tree canopy and slightly calcereous soils. My take away from the various described growing conditions is that it needs good drainage and good fortune in it's reproduction process.

I've planted it among the biennial Purple Phacelia. I can't wait to see the royal purple and golden yellow blooming together. If it's happy and survives to set seed early springs in this garden will be even more glorious.

Yellow fumewort is a winter annual. Winter annuals germinate in autumn or winter, live through the winter, then bloom in winter or spring.  The plants grow and bloom during the cool season when most other plants are dormant or other annuals are in seed form waiting for warmer weather to germinate. Winter annuals die after flowering and setting seed. The seeds germinate in the autumn or winter when the soil temperature is cool. They typically grow low to the ground and protected from the coldest nights by snow or decaying leaves. They take advantage of warm periods during winter to grow. Western Daisy, Blue-eyed Mary, chickweed, and winter cress are winter annuals that grow in my garden.

the flowers do resemble other Dicentras

The flowers that begin blooming in late winter or early spring in my middle Tennessee garden grow in terminal racemes/clusters at the ends of the stalks. The petals converge into a tube like appearance with a spur; the supporting stem is attached near the center of the flower rather than at the end. Bees who visit need a long tongue and have to work to open the tubed flower. Nectar robbers are known to visit and there is some evidence that they can aid in pollination. 


After blooming and successful pollination long reddish decorative seed pods develop. The seeds ripen and fall on the soil to germinate and grow into a small flowerless plant in the fall. The overwintering leaves look very similar to a Dicentra, with a glaucous/pale grey or bluish-green and finely divided leaflets. It blooms when temperatures warm in the spring. 

"It is self-compatible and occasionally cleistogamous, but likely depends on insects (especially bees) for pollination, out-crossing, and the maintenance of genetic heterogeneity (Mitchell 1983).  Its seeds, produced in May-June, show unusual dormancy characteristics, germinating in the fall and producing seedlings that overwinter (Baskin and Baskin 1994, Farnsworth unpublished data).  These seeds have conspicuous, fatty elaiosomes attractive to ants that transport the propagules to nutrient-rich nest sites favorable for germination (Beattie etal. 1979). (source)

glaucous, finely dived leaves that resemble Dutchman's Breeches

The survival of a delicate species like Corydalis flavula is dependent upon several environmental factors

  • availability of pollinators (bees, some flies and the falcate orange-tip butterfly/Anthocaris midea
  • sufficient rain,
  • soil nutrients, 
  • insect seed dispersers (ants),
  • habitat security, and
  • a special dormancy period of hot summer days followed by cool autumn nights



The Particulars

Botanical name: Corydalis flavula

Family -Fumariaceae and Papaveracea - The Fumitory family is a subfamily of the Papaveracea family.

Common names: short-spurred corydalis, yellow corydalis, fume-root, fumewort, yellow fumewort, yellow fumitory, yellow harlequin

Range: USA: AL , AR , CT , DC , FL , GA , IA , IL , IN , KS , KY , LA , MA , MD , MI , MO , MS , NC , NE , NH , NJ , NY , OH , OK , PA , RI , SC , TN , VA , VT , WI , WV Canada: ON

Zones: 5 to 8

Habit - Annual, occasionally biennial, taprooted forb. Has characteristics of an early "spring ephemeral" throughout its range, reaching reproductive maturity in March through April in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia (Wofford 1989).

Stems - Loosely ascending, to 30 cm, branched and sometimes multiple, from a spreading base, glabrous, often reddish. 

Bloom time: It blooms in mid-spring to early summer.

Flower: Inflorescence - Racemes, to 8cm long, mostly not extending past the foliage, those with open flowers 6-12-flowered racemes, those with cleistogamous flowers 1-5-flowered clusters. Flower stalks (except sometimes in cleistogamous flowers) 9-22 mm long, ascending at flowering, often pendent at fruiting, subtended by leaf like bracts, these to 1 cm long, 7 mm broad, acute.

Habitat - Bottomland forests, ravines, bases of bluffs, streambanks, shaded roadsides, railroads, rich woodland soil. Hoping it can survive my rather dry in the summer garden.

Faunal Associations: The flowers are pollinated by bumblebees, flies and one butterfly. The oily appendages of the seeds (elaisomes) attract ants (particularly Pheidole bicarinata), which undoubtedly help to disperse the seeds. The poisonous foliage is avoided by mammalian herbivores.

Comments: This plant contains a variety of alkaloids and other chemicals that render them toxic. They may have been used medicinally in the past, but do not ingest them.

Companions: Spring ephemerals and less aggressive perennials that won't crowd them out.

Thank you for stopping by and welcome to Clay and Limestone's Wildflower Wednesday celebration. WW is about sharing and celebrating wildflowers from all over this great big, beautiful world. Join us on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Remember, it doesn't matter if they are in bloom or not; and, it doesn't matter if we all share the same plants. It's all about celebrating wildflowers. Please leave a comment when you add your url to Mr Linky.


Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. Had no idea there were native Corydalis. My garden is overrun with C. lutea, which blooms for months in summer.

  2. I always look forward to these little beauties popping up here and there. So cheerful.

  3. A bee on a yellow daisy for you today

  4. I have a row of fringed bleeding hearts in full bloom against my house foundation. I do not know your corydalis at all - but it is a beauty.


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson