Cardamine pensylvanica (Pennsylvania Bittercress)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Brassicaceae (Mustard)
Life cycle:annual, biennial
Habitat:part shade; wet woods, wet ditches, streambanks, swamps
Bloom season:April - June
Plant height:6 to 18 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACW MW: FACW NCNE: FACW
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 4-petals Cluster type: raceme

[photo of flowers] Elongating clusters of stalked flowers at the top of the plant and the end of branching stems arising from leaf axils in the upper plant. Flowers are 1/8 to ¼ inch across with 4 rounded white petals and 6 creamy white to pale yellow stamens slightly protruding from the center. The 4 sepals behind the flower are oblong and hairless, green but may be purplish at the tip.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf attachment: basal Leaf type: compound

[photo of basal leaves] Leaves are compound, a leaf up to 4 inches long and 1¼ inch wide. Basal and lower stem leaves are similar, with oval to round leaflets that may have a few teeth or shallow lobes, the end leaflet largest. Basal leaves typically wither away by flowering time.

[photo of stem leaves] Upper stem leaflets become more narrow, mostly toothless or with a few shallow lobes, with the end leaflet distinctly broader and longer than the lateral leaflets. Stems are often very leafy, mostly hairless or sparsely hairy especially near the base of the plant, green or sometimes purplish.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a slender pod ¾ to 1¼ inch long, erect to slightly spreading and mostly straight.


A similar species is Small-flowered Bittercress (Cardamine parviflora), which is a smaller, more spindly plant found in dry soil, where Pennsylvania Bittercress is found in moist to wet places. The end leaflet of Pennsylvania Bittercress is also distinctly larger than the lateral leaflets, where they are nearly the same size on Small-flowered Bittercress.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken at Coon Rapids Dam, Anoka County, and Snail Lake, Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken at Banning State Park, Pine County and in Anoka County.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: carole - West side of Ball Club Lake, Itasca Co.
on: 2015-06-04 12:21:07

One of many cool plants at the property we were looking at...

Posted by: David Marks - Rochester
on: 2021-05-08 15:55:28

I see 1 or 2 plants of this type in early spring each year at the Izaak Walton Wetlands. The flowers seem a little larger than the description but the leaves look like PA Bittercress.

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