This spring weed is known for its tasty leaves, but it’s most interesting feature may be the way it disperses seeds by flinging them through the air. Hairy bittercress is a winter annual weed that germinates in the cool moist conditions of late fall. Seed pods pop and fly everywhere when lightly touched.
Weed of the Month: Hairy Bittercress
As winter warms to spring, a favorite weed of foragers starts to emerge in rather cute clumps—it’s hairy bittercress! It has actually been lurking near the surface all winter, having germinated in the fall and waited out the cold temperatures before sending up flowers and seeds.
Hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) leafs out in a basal rosette, and like other members of the mustard family (Brassicaceae), its tender greens are edible. Don’t be fooled by the common name—its flavor is mild and peppery, not bitter. Though the flowers can be tough to chew, the tender leaves are suitable for a chic microgreens salad and have tons of vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, beta-carotene, and antioxidants.
The flower stalks shoot up above the rosette, topped with clusters of tiny, cross-shaped white flowers. Indeed, the former name for the family is Cruciferae, a reference to the crucifix pattern of the petals common in that family’s flowers. However, when I was little, I remember thinking these tiny flowers looked like frosty pixie wands or fairy crowns, at once earthy, tough, regal, and whimsical.
More: Learn to identify more weeds and find out more about each one by browsing the Weed of the Month archive.
While urban grazers will be most focused on the leaves, I think the seed capsules are the best part of hairy bittercress. Called siliques, they look like purplish-green toothpicks standing upright around the flower. As the seeds mature, the pods begin to coil tightly until—pop! A gentle touch or passing breeze triggers the pods to explode and send the seeds flying as far as three feet from the mother plant. This ballistic dispersal strategy, known as ballochory, is also employed by jewelweed and cranesbill.
Though hairy bittercress is originally from Eurasia and was introduced to North America, there are several species of Cardamine that are native to the United States. Several are listed as threatened or endangered, mostly due to habitat loss.
Hairy bittercress is adapted to moist, disturbed soils, so it emerges wherever we irrigate. Unsurprisingly, then, it’s a common lawn weed (where it can form expansive mats) as well as a greenhouse weed (where it pops up in and around containers). Mowing and hand weeding are the typical means of control—the shallow fibrous roots make it an easy pull. If you do pull some from your garden beds, consider making a farmer’s sandwich of cheese, apples, and a bit of fresh bittercress. Skip the compost pile and send it your stomach instead!
The Weed of the Month series explores the ecology and history of the common wild plants that most gardeners consider weeds.
Browse the Weed of the Month archives >
Saara Nafici is the executive director of Added Value/Red Hook Community Farm. She is also the former coordinator of the Garden Apprentice Program at Brooklyn Botanic Garden and a longtime activist, feminist, bicyclist, naturalist, and youth educator. Follow her weedy plant adventures on Instagram.
Weed That Shoots Seeds
Updated July 15, 2021
We continue to offer our full range of plant health care, lawn care, and tree care services throughout central New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania.
Business hours are back to normal (see our hours here), we take the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of Covid-19, and are always receptive to your preferences for personal interaction.
Updated April 29, 2020
As an essential business, we continue to operate under our normal business hours.
Our crews are working every day to remove and prune trees, perform safety inspections, spray for ticks and mosquitoes, apply lawn and tree treatments, and address any other aspects of tree, shrub, or lawn care.
We’re available 24/7 for emergency tree work, and we’re always available by phone or email to answer your questions or discuss any issues with your trees or lawn.
As a reminder, our arborists and crew members won’t ring your doorbell (we’ll text you when we arrive on your property). Anyone you interact with will be wearing a mask and staying at least 6 feet away from you. You can see more details below in our earlier update.
Thank you for your continued support during these difficult times. And, if you can, we encourage you to get outdoors and enjoy the spring flowers and new green leaves – we all need a little beauty in our lives these days.
Updated March 23, 2020
Under the Governor’s “stay-at-home” order on 03/22/20, tree care and tree work can continue as long as tree care businesses follow social distancing recommendations. As an “essential service”, we are working hard to make sure our customers’ trees are safe and well-maintained.
We take the health and safety of our customers and employees very seriously, and have consulted with the NJ Board of Tree Experts, International Society for Arboriculture, and the Tree Care Industry Association to make sure that we are following best practices. As a result, we’ve enacted the following additional precautions to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus in our local communities.
On Your Property
When one of our arborists arrives to inspect your tree(s) and provide an estimate, they will call or text to let you know they’ve arrived (rather than ringing the doorbell). You can stay indoors and communicate by phone while our arborist is on site. If you’d prefer to come outside, we will ensure that the recommended 6-foot distance is maintained.
As always, proposals and work orders will be sent to you by email; we don’t provide hand-written estimates.
You can accept a proposal directly through the link in the email, through the Customer Portal on our website, or by calling the office.
When our crews are on your property, they work independently. You do not need to be home or have any direct contact with them.
We are closely monitoring all employees for any signs of illness. Each team member knows that they should go home immediately if they feel unwell, or stay home if they’re at all concerned. If anyone becomes ill, we will all follow the CDC’s recommendations.
We’ve provided an abundance of alcohol wipes and latex gloves for each employee, are ensuring that they follow the recommended handwashing and disinfecting protocols, and have reinforced that they should maintain as much distance from each other as is practical while at work.
In the Office
In the office, Joy is working tirelessly to keep up with the spring demand and is continuing to schedule appointments for estimates. We’re experiencing a high volume of phone calls so ask for your patience as we try to get to everyone.
Scheduling and ongoing work have so far not been affected. If it becomes necessary to reschedule, we will let you know.