Weed du Jour – Hairy Bittercress

Here’s one more weed that’s growing in the yard and garden during this very cool weather – hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta). I’ve found it growing alongside the common groundsel.

Leaf and Leaflets of Hairy Bittercress

Leaf and Leaflets of Hairy Bittercress

Like groundsel, hairy bittercress is a weed that can be both a winter and summer annual. The plants I’ve been seeing are winter annuals that have overwintered, forming a tight rosette of leaves. The leaves of bittercress usually are hairy on the upper surfaces.  Mature leaves have a long petiole and there are 1-3 pairs of leaflets attached with a final larger leaflet at the end of the petiole. The plant has a small branched taproot.

This plant prefers cool, moist conditions and spring is its primary flowering time. This isn’t very surprising when you realize that bittercress is a Brassica, a relative of  mustard, arugula, broccoli and others. None of these plants grow well in the heat and neither does bittercress.

Hairy Bittercress

Hairy Bittercress

The flowers of bittercress are small and white with four petals. It’s interesting how this plant spreads its seeds. When the fruit or capsule of the plant is fully mature, any disturbance causes the capsule to break open explosively, propelling the seeds up to 10′ from the original plant. This is how hairy bittercress expands its territory within the garden.

I’m not one who forages for greens but I was interested to learn that hairy bittercress is a weed that is often eaten. Like other Brassicas, it’s said to have a peppery taste. I might take a taste of a leaf sometime but I doubt I’ll be collecting this weed for salads. But if that’s your thing, go for it!

Despite this plant’s ability to spread its seed, bittercress is pretty easily controlled. Its need for cool and moist conditions means that it’s not a big problem in the summer garden. Also this weed is easily pulled or hoed out of the garden. The important thing is to destroy the plant before it can set seed.

I have to say that I don’t ever remember seeing hairy bittercress before this year. Bittercress is a problem weed in nursery crops so it may have been introduced into the yard in some plant that I purchased. But I’d bet that it’s always been in the garden. Now that I’m looking more closely at weeds in order to identify them, I’m more aware of the different kinds of weeds that I see. Still, the fact that I didn’t notice it until now just shows that this weed isn’t too big of a problem in the yard.

But even if it isn’t a big problem, as I pull it out of the ground, it’s nice to be able to identify this weed as hairy bittercress.


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