Identifying plants: Cardamine pensylvanica

Luckily–or unluckily, depending on your point of view–the previous owners of our house never did a day of yard work in all the ten years they lived here. The unlucky side is that parts of the property are infested with non-native plants, some of which are choking out beneficial ones. The lucky side is that there is also an abundance of small, obscure native wildflowers that you almost never see, in our thoughtless, controlling landscaping culture.

One of these native wildflowers, Cardamine pensylvanica, is well-established in my yard (mostly on the lawn, much to my poor husband’s annoyance). It is commonly known as Pennsylvania Bittercress. The leaves can be eaten, raw or cooked, according to the source above.

Mature Pennsylvania Bittercress
Mature Pennsylvania Bittercress

They are also eaten by a few insect species, occasionally Evergestis pallidata catterpillars (purple-backed cabbageworm moth) and Anthocharis midea catterpillars (falcate orangetip butterfly), as well as flower flies and aphids.

Evergestis pallidata caterpillar
Evergestis pallidata caterpillar
Falcate orangetip butterfly
Falcate orangetip butterfly

These little plants have a lot of personality! The dainty white flowers reach above the height of the grass. The seed pods stand erect, and when they are mature, a gentle nudge or breeze sends them flying in all directions. This particular species of Cardamine thrives in damp or muddy locations, and pops up in the early (wet) part of spring in Georgia. Seed pods can mature as early as April, so pulling the plants in March to make salad seems like the best way to keep them off the lawn. Or you could leave them for the bugs to eat!


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