Bittercress,; Cardamine species

There are four and in order of abundance we have Hairy Bittercress C. hirsuta, then Wavy Bittercress C. flexuosa,  Large Bitercress C. amara and the least common is Narrow-leaved Bittercress C. impatiens.

Hairy Bittercress is a very common garden weed… as the saying goes, if I had a pound for every one I have pulled up etc etc.  They are as it happens fairly easy to pull up as opposed to some weeds. However if you don’t get them early then as you pull them up the seed pod bursts and a shower of little seeds are dispersed thus ensuring that you will have the pleasure of removing another generation of Bittercress in a month or so time. The key characteristics of this species which helps to differentiate it from the others is a straight stem and seed pods which develop and grow so that they extend well above the flowers which are still blooming.  The little flowers have 4 stamens, but you will probably need a hand lens to see them. It can flower almost throughout the year.  The plant is quite small growing to about 15 cm high..

Wavy Bittercress is quite similar to Hairy Bittercress except that the stem grows in a zig-zag fashion,thus the name wavy. Also the seed pods tend not to grow up so high above the remaining flowers. The flowers look very similar to Hairy Bittercress but they have six stamens. Flowering is more restricted being from April through to September. This is less of a garden weed and is more likely to be found in woodland, it does like wet muddy or boggy ground. However the Bittercress I have in my present garden is Wavy Bittercress. It is slightly hairy, you can see hairs on the stems sometimes it can be quite hairy. Yes the other one is called Hairy Bittercress and this is the one that is  is hairy… not ask me why. It has a fairly strong smell of watercress. You notice the smell when you have pulled up several plants, it is from the damaged leaves. I don’t think the flowers produce any scent. This can grow up to almost 30 cm

Large Bittercress. I came across this along the banks of the river Wey in Guildford. There were quite a large number but they were restricted to one area in a shady and boggy area.

Being quite large they were fairly easy to spot, somewhat reminiscent of Cuckoo flower which they  related to. The flowers are white but the stamens have a purple colour.. This is a bigger plant than the other Bittercress species, growing to 60cm and you do find it in woodlands.

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Narrow-leaved Bittercress, this is by far the least common of the four being only found in parts of central England and a few other locations but not in Scotland and quite restricted in Wales and Ireland. It has very small petals, sometimes they are absent, the anthers are yellow sow the effect is that the tiny flowers look yellow.  It is hairless and has deeply toothed leaves This is also a woodland species


I first saw this on a visit to Lady Park Wood…. well the perimeter of Lady Park Wood as it is a fenced off reserve which you can only visit with special permission. Recently I have found several plants in Blakes Wood near Staunton.

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5 thoughts on “Bittercress,; Cardamine species

  1. I seem to start each spring trying to remember which is which of hairy and wavy – they often go into my field notebook as bittercress4 and bittercress6 from the number of stamens – to be properly named when I get home. Great descriptions


    1. You must have good eye sight…. or do you have a hand lens with you.?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hand lens is easiest for this one. Or I take a photo – eithe rPanasonic GH4 with 60mm Olympus macro, or and Olympus TG4 that also takes macro good enough to ID small things.


      2. I have recently bought a TG4….. excellent little camera and my back is much better for not lugging a ton of gear around. If I come across something special I can always take the heavyweight gear back another day.

        Liked by 1 person

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