Spring Cress (Bitter Cress)

Cardamine bulbosa

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Photo of spring cress flower clusters
Karan A. Rawlins, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org
Edible
Family

Brassicaceae (mustards)

Description

Low, spreading perennial. Flowers small, 4-petaled, white, terminal, in small clusters. Blooms March–June. When rooted in water, the stem leaves are narrowly lance-shaped; when rooted in wet earth, stem leaves are triangular with some teeth, the lower on long petioles, the upper to nearly sessile. Basal leaves are rounded on long stems.

Similar species: Small-flowered bitter cress (C. parviflora) has mostly single stems with little or no branching, to 12 inches tall. Blooms March-July. Basal and stem leaves with 3-6 pairs of small, opposite lobes spaced along the leaf rib, the terminal having the same nearly linear shape. Statewide, in upland, rocky woods and ridges.

Bitter cress (C. pensylvanica) has stems single or spreading, to 2 feet tall. Blooms March-July. Leaves like C. parviflora, but larger, and the lobes are connected by leaf tissue along the midrib of the leaf. Moist places in central and southern counties.

Size

Height: to 12 inches.

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Photo of spring cress flowers
Spring Cress (Bitter Cress) (Flowers)

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Photo of spring cress plant with flowers
Spring Cress (Bitter Cress)
Habitat and conservation

Occurs in bottomland forests, wet places, fens, and banks of springs and spring branches. Sometimes also found in seepy bluffs and acid seeps.

image of Spring Cress Bitter Cress distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Scattered in the southern, central, and northeastern portions of the state.

Human connections

The roots, stems and leaves taste something like horseradish and have been used like that plant in sauces and salads. The name “cress” is used for many plants, and this species should not be confused with watercress (Nasturtium officinale).

Ecosystem connections

For a plant in the mustard family, spring cress bears rather showy flowers. They are visited by a variety of insects, which gather nectar and often pollinate the plant, too. Nearly all the members of the mustard family, including broccoli and radishes, have flowers with four petals.