Thursday, April 10, 2008

Mustards Aren't Always Yellow...

The mustard family, Brassicaceae or Cruciferae, is a family of flowering plants to which many of the spring wildflowers belong and some of our more healthier vegetables, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. Cruciferae is an older name for the family and means "cross-bearing". It refers to the four-petaled flowers that resemble a cross. Here is one of this family that I spoke about in an earlier post, Harbinger-of-Spring, otherwise known as Salt and Pepper.

Harbinger-of-Spring, Erigenia bulbosa

Another great member of this family is Purple Cress, Cardamine douglassii. It has delicate lavender flowers. It is a beautiful flower that is sometimes overlooked.
Purple Cress, Cardamine douglassii

Cutleaf Toothwort, Cardamine concatenata, is another interesting member of the mustard family. The term "wort" means plant, so toothwort basically means "toothplant." Named so for the tubers or roots on the plant that are nubby and white and look like teeth. It was also believed to heal toothaches. It's former scientific name was Dentaria, another reference to teeth("dent" means tooth).

Cutleaf Toothwort, Cardamine concatenata
Below is a nice closeup of the flower, showing the resplendent white petals.

A very small member of the mustard family is Spring Draba or Whitlow Grass, Draba verna. Whitlow Grass is a weedy introduced species that can be found commonly in lawns and waste areas. The tiny plant is only about three and a half inches tall. The flowers are minute, only 4 mm at the widest point. But wait just one second, you might be thinking, mustards are supposed to have four petals and this one looks like it has eight. Well, actually, it does have only four. Each of the four petals are notched, just giving it the illusion of eight petals. I personally think the flower is quite lovely, even if it is a weed.

Whitlow Grass, Draba verna, photo from Flickr

And, the scourge of the earth, a plant I am constantly at war with and losing. Garlic Mustard. This plant is so prolific, spreading its seeds everywhere and choking out wildflowers all the while. (It is not in bloom right now. I pulled that picture from the internet.) Garlic Mustard, Alliaria petiolata, was introduced by the pioneers, who brought it from Europe to season their stews. At Southeastway Park, we will be having a Garlic Mustard pull on April 26th from 12-2pm. Anyone is welcome to join in. Please call the park office to let us know, so we can have plenty of supplies on hand, (317) 861-5167.

Garlic Mustard, Alliaria petiolata


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