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Hairy Bittercress

Hairy Bittercress; Cardamine hirsuta L.
Mustard Family; CRUCIFERÆ (BRASSICACEÆ)

    Bittercress is a petty annual herb colored rich green or tinged purplish. Specimens can be found any time of year, but are most abundant and conspicuous in spring. Although weak and lush, it thrives and proliferates on the worst sites and is inured to cold. Wet muck, hard gray clay, mossy rockeries, light forest-duff, garden beds --all in sunshine or shade-- it tolerates.
    It is from Europe, and for years in the Seattle area has been misidentified as Cardamine oligosperma, a similar but now very rare native species.
    Under inhospitable conditions, Bittercress assumes abject, depauperate stature, sending up paltry, pitiful little flowerstems. In the most favorable circumstances a height of 17 inches may be achieved. The color is rich green or tinged purplish. Its leaves are pinnately compound, of usually 7 rounded leaflets. The flowers, minute white affairs, give rise to slender seedpods nearly an inch long. As these seedpods ripen, the slightest disturbance causes them to explosively spit out their cargo. Does the gardener live whose face has never had any such seeds spat square into it? Dry summer weather withers the weed, turning it straw-colored. It doesn't care because its seeds are all over by then.
    To call it bitter is wrong, wrong, wrong! A related English weed was named over two hundred years ago by Linnaeus Cardamine amara, the specific name meaning bitter. No common folk ever called that weed, or its close kin, bitter. But bookwriters heedlessly transferred the inaccurate name to all sorts of Cardamine species. Local names such as "Spitweed" or "Shotweed" or "Poppits" or "That Little Green Thing" go unacknowledged in books. Whatever we call it, we agree it is very abundant, and easy to weed-up, but nearly impossible to get rid of totally. It is also a delicious, nutritious wild edible, reminiscent in flavor to watercress.
    Thus, this little weed is spartan and stoic regarding its requirements; has an ultra-sensitive impatient hang-up or obsession about reproduction; labors under a calumnious misnomer; and is held in such general contempt as are but few of its Cardamine cousins. But taste its fresh, tender growth and you will never see it in the same way.

    Originally published as the Seattle Tilth newsletter Weed of the Month in February 1987, along with an illustration drawn by Jerri Geer.

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Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert

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