3/17/12

Mystery Plant Identified!

The unidentified plant pictured in my February garden post aroused much interest. A commenter said it might be a member of the mustard family, but when I google the commenter's identification of the plant as "Leavenworthia" the flowers didn't quite match my plant, although the leaves are similar. Someone else said it likely is a "Cress", which is indeed plant family related to mustard plants. I searched my books and online references and I finally have narrowed it down to two possibilities, both Bittercress:

Wood Bittercress
(Cardamine Flexuosa)
or
Hairy Bittercress 
(Cardamine Hirsuta) - "hairy" refers to the very tiny hairy spikes, which show best if you click on the photo on my February post to enlarge it.

And my research reveals it's an edible plant. The young raw leaves taste mildly similar to watercress, which you might know from gourmet produce markets - a bitter, peppery taste. Watercress grows wild in my creek (roots need moving clean water) and has very similarly shaped leaves to the Mystery Plant. As with many plants, once it starts to flower the leaves get more bitter tasting. My large photo matches one I saw on a good wild edibles website which said: "…when the leaves form a rosette on the ground, it's a small, insignificant weed. However, this is very early in the year when there's not a lot around that's worth eating…. ripe seed heads and stalks tend to be fibrous, therefore unpalatable." The young leaves can be mixed into a fresh salad or used in a sandwich, for a peppery bite.



Beware if you don't want this weed to re-seed. The Barbie-doll size seed pods which form after the flowers contain many tiny seeds. I often hear them "POP" and scatter the seeds when I bump into the plant… meaning many more plants in the future.

As with any edible wild food, be 100% sure of your identification before ingesting. One of my upcoming blog posts will be on more wild edibles now growing.