Our garden has lots of early-season weeds, just waiting to be pulled. One that’s important to get out quickly is Shotweed, aka Hairy Bittercress or Cardamine hirsuta. This winter annual is in full bloom right now and getting ready to shoot its seeds all over the place. In the photo above it’s the plant with the white flowers, growing mixed up with Henbit, Creeping Buttercups, and Common Groundsel.
The common name, Shotweed, comes from the way the plant disperses its seeds. As the seeds mature within their pods (called a silique), the pod curls. Then, at maturity, the slightest touch or breeze triggers the pod to explode, shooting seeds up to 3 feet from the mother plant. That’s why it’s important to pull up the plants before they go to seed if you’re after a neat and tidy garden.
Leaves on Shotweed are pinnately compound, divided into 3-11 pair of oblong leaflets. At first glance these appear to be coming from a basal rosette, but in reality most of them are stem leaves.
Hairy Bittercress, the other common name for this plant, refers to the fact that the foliage is slightly hairy and the leaves are edible like other cresses (think watercress) and most members of the mustard family. The foliage isn’t as bitter as the name would suggest. In fact, I find them quite tasty and slightly peppery. They’d definitely be good in a fresh spring greens salad.
Cardamine hirsuta, a Eurasian introduction, is easily confused with our native Cardamine oligosperma, Little Western Bittercress. The technical key requires that you have mature fruit and a hand lens, but you can also tell the two apart when they’re in flower by counting the number of stamens. Hairy Bittercress usually has 4 stamens and the native Little Western Bittercress usually has 6 stamens.