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 tips of branching stems. 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 1.3 to 2.3 mm oblong, hairless, and green to purplish.

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

[photo of basal leaves] Leaves are compound, a leaf up to 6 inches (4 to 15 cm) long. 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] Leaflets on stem leaves become more narrow, mostly toothless or with a few shallow lobes, short-stalked to stalkless, the end leaflet distinctly broader and longer than the lateral leaflets, up to about 1 inch (1.3 to 3+ cm) long. Stems are single from the base, branched, often very leafy, sparsely hairy near the base and hairless above, green or sometimes purplish.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a slender pod ¾ to 1¼ inch (1.7 to 2.7+ cm) long, erect to ascending 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. Also similar is the invasive Narrow-leaf Bittercress (Cardamine impatiens), which has smaller flowers, is hairless, leaflets are all stalked, and the stem leaves have a pair of narrow lobes (auricles) at the base of the compound leaf stalk.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Anoka and Ramsey counties. Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka, Filmore and Pine counties.


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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