Brassicaceae or the mustard family has quite a few cresses in it. These cresses are similar in many respects and can be difficult to tell apart.
Several are edible. Water Cress, Yellow Rocket and Shepard’s Purse are among these. From the name, this is not one to try. It is blooming now.
Cardamine hirsuta L.
March to April I Family: Brassicaceae
Flower: A cluster of white, four petaled flowers tips the stalk. Each flower has a stalk the length of the flower. Four green sepals half the length of the petals surround and cup the flower. Each sepal is tipped with hairs. The four petals have a long, narrow base part that flares out into a rounded top. Four stamens surround a flat-topped style. The pistil starts elongating through the middle of the flower as soon as it is pollinated and before the petals drop.
Leaf: Leaves are alternate and compound with several pairs of round, sparsely hairy leaflets and a terminal round leaflet. The leaflets may have large rounded teeth tipped with a stiff hair or have smooth edges. The petiole is reddish toward the base, hairy and grooved on the top. Most form a rosette at the base of the flowering stalk. The few leaves on the flowering stalk have long, narrow leaflets.
Stem: The stems are ridged, green to dark green, unbranched and usually hairless. They are erect but may have jogs in them at leaf nodes.
Fruit: The seed capsule is up to an inch long and slender. It has a series of bulges the entire length, each one indicating a seed.
Habitat: The plant likes moist disturbed ground such as lawns, river and stream banks.
Hoary Bitter Cress
Hoary Bitter Cress seems to be the first of the cresses to bloom in the spring. Many of the cresses can be used as wild greens including this one. As the name implies, this one is bitter to the taste and better mixed into a batch of potherbs.
The plant can survive frost into the teens. Even the flowers seem to withstand such a frost.
Typical of weeds, Hoary Bitter Cress grows quickly and blooms. The first flower stalks can be short, barely three inches tall. The flowers are fewer in number than on later, taller – up to a foot – stalks.
The flowers are the four-petaled ones of the mustard family. They are quickly pollinated. The seed pod grows up between the petals. All of the pods point upward. When the seeds ripen, the pod splits in half lengthwise to release them. The seeds don’t seem to travel far so the plants occur in clumps.
I found the plants in several places. Lawn grasses surround some. Other plants were in drier habitat on a hillside but still in a sunny, grassy location. The lushest plants grew in a river floodplain.